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Asian Women Giving Circle.

By Jeanne Chinard

I was recently privileged to attend the Asian Women Giving Circle’s Fourth Annual Celebration

of Activism at MOCA, The Museum of Chinese in America.

A serene and elegant structure, the museum was designed by the talented artist and architect, Maya Lin, well-known for her groundbreaking Vietnam Veterans Memorial and her more recent multi-media environmentally-focused “What is Missing.” The purpose of the event was to celebrate art as a means to ignite social change.

The Asian Women Giving Circle was started five years ago by a group of dedicated women to help the unrecognized Asian woman activist-artist in New York. This non-profit group gives support in the form of grants to “Asian women using the tools of art and culture to achieve their social justice goals.”

Even the smallest grants from the Giving Circle can give artists an opportunity to express their vision to a wider audience. Equally important, the resulting projects call attention to the more difficult issues which many Asian-American woman face - issues which are still under the radar as a result of persistent cultural taboos. Some of the devastating subjects these artists explore include mental illness, incest, economic enslavement and sexual exploitation. Their projects are raw and honest, and yet not without hope, and as such are incredibly inspiring.

I knew nothing about the Giving Circle beforehand, so the event was a revelation. For me, the most memorable part of the evening was the opportunity to speak with current and past grantees, some of who are both victim and artist. Unlike so many museum events I have attended, these interactions weren’t just chance cocktail-party encounters. Instead, guests were encouraged to have intimate, unhurried conversations with these artists. The event provided a rare and fascinating view of the artists’ “work-in-progress.” One project, Ping Chong & Company’s “Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors” features five victims of incest who share their personal experiences through a multi-media dramatic narrative. The courage of the grantees to give a personal voice to such controversial and painful issues was both moving and humbling.

It seems to me that we are living in an era of manipulated, corporatized art. Mega-shows like Art Basel promote the art of the stock portfolio - not art. In our ever-spinning media vortex, art that strives to communicate social issues is rarely seen or acknowledged and is often considered subversive. The artists who take up these challenges are often exiled, driven underground or forced to work anonymously.

The Giving Circle’s focus is on Asian women in New York, but sadly, the issues they communicate are global and touch women everywhere. The nine 2010 Grantees’ projects will serve to empower the community’s most vulnerable women, giving them an urgently needed way to regain their confidence and rediscover their own worth. At a time when charitable donations and support for the arts and social issues have diminished radically, the Asian Women Giving Circle is a unique creative solution to a critical social need. Even one small project can have a ripple effect that could spread around the world. The artists represent the hope that it is still possible for art to be a catalyst for social change as well as aesthetic transformation.



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