Home / Arts & Life / Artist’s Chinatown Depiction Ignites Protests

Artist’s Chinatown Depiction Ignites Protests


A protester’s sign outside Omer Fast’s exhibit at the James Cohan Gallery.

Andrew R. Chow for The New York Times

Yet another bitter battle over art, appropriation and censorship is being waged this week — this time over a depiction of a Chinatown waiting room.

The Berlin-based artist Omer Fast presented his 3D film “August” at the James Cohan Gallery’s Grand Street location starting in September. The film dealt with the German photographer August Sander and Nazism, but Mr. Fast hoped to better integrate the installation with the surrounding community: to “transform the gallery facade and interior into what they were like before gentrification,” according to the gallery’s news release.

So he put up a yellow facade with faded red Chinese characters and constructed a waiting room, in a similar spirit to the airport lounges and doctor’s waiting rooms he had devised in Berlin, Minneapolis and other places. This installation was especially meant to conjure a Chinatown bus stop, with its mismatched tiles, hanging red lanterns and unglamorous folding chair setup. A representative for the Cohan Gallery said Mr. Fast visited the space and surrounding area several times to get a feel for the aesthetic.

But the Chinatown community saw it differently. “This exhibition is a hostile act towards communities on the front lines fighting tenant harassment, cultural appropriation and erasure,” the Chinatown Art Brigade wrote in an open letter. “The conception and installation of this show reifies racist narratives of uncleanliness, otherness and blight that have historically been projected onto Chinatown.”

A group of protesters gathered at the gallery on Sunday, making speeches calling for the shutdown of the exhibition and holding signs that read “racism disguised as art” and “this is not my culture.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Fast responded to the criticism in a statement, saying the exhibition would remain intact and unchanged. “I’m truly sorry that some persons find the installation insensitive or offensive,” he wrote. However, he vehemently protested the tone of the demonstration, especially with regard to its focus on his foreign identity: “I expect this sort of characterization from right-wing trolls carrying tiki-torches and howling for walls to be built. I don’t expect it from left-wing activists in Lower Manhattan,” he said in a statement.

The showdown represents another free speech debate between artists and protesters, the latest of which occurred at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition, “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World.” After receiving numerous threats, the museum pulled three of the exhibit’s controversial works, prompting a backlash.

Continue reading the main story

About admin

Check Also

Hear the Best Albums and Songs of 2023

Dear listeners, In the spirit of holiday excess and end-of-the-year summation, we’re about to make …