*This page includes exemplary work by students in art and education courses I have taught. The presentation abstract on this page was generated from a course assignment in Historical Foundations of Art Education during the Fall of 2008.Michell Whang presented this work at the Penn State Conference as well as the Adelphi University Student Research Conference. Enjoy!
Crossing Visual Culture: A Study on Border Perceptions
Presented at the "Image as Witness Conference" at Pennsylvania State University: 2008, by Michell Whang, MA student in Art Education at Adelphi University.
On my recent trip to China for the Beijing Olympics, I traveled by train to an industrial seaport city in Tianjin for a soccer event. I was in awe to find painted on the ceiling of the train station a European Renaissance inspired mural, but to my astonishment all had Asian faces. I was reminded of this strange painting reading Teaching Art in the Context of Culture: A Study of the Borderlands, by Elizabeth Garber. She emphasizes what happens when we cross visual cultures and the misconceptions mainstream culture has in stereotyping cultural diversity. Yet reminding us that living on the border is an exciting place because the potential for true communication of diverse cultural traditions is enriching and necessary.
This painting in China has turned border perception on its head. It speaks so prolifically about how visual culture plays a role on how we view “the other.” The West has always viewed the East as “exotic”1 strange and foreign in food, language, clothing and religion. Yet, to see the East “exoticizing” the West speaks profoundly about the perception of Western culture. Living within the border of Western mainstream culture, those images are not easily identified. The “American dream” is a huge cultural stereotype, that the media abuses in movie and television genres to sell advertising and consumer mentality. To see the American dream in the skin of the “exotic” has rocked my perception of visual culture because stepping out of my Western context into an Eastern mainstream culture has challenged my place on the border.
As an Asian American artist and teacher, I have experienced mixing and crossing of Western and Eastern visual cultures that creates a new and different cultural perspective often rejected by both mainstream cultures. “It is as if one’s own land ceases to exist when others do not recognize it.”2 If that is true, immigrants offer a unique cultural perspective that is lost in the process of expected assimilation. Cultural dialogue needs to occur in order to learn from unique American border perceptions. There needs to be a real and authentic effort on art educators to identify and resist the exotic stereotypes such as that all Americans come from Eurocentric traditions, or that Eastern traditions cannot truly be American. Crossing visual culture is an important arena for understanding border perceptions which contributes to our growth in diversity and understanding what it means to be live in a multi-cultural America.
1. Garber, Elizabeth. (1995). Teaching art in the context of culture: A study in the borderlands. A Journal of Issues and Research. No 36. Vol. 4 p. 218-230.
2. Lippard, Lucy R. (1990). Mixed blessing: new art in a multicultural America. New York: the New Press. p. 142.