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‘Scratching at the Moon’ at ICA Los Angeles

Amanda Ross-Ho, Untitled (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photo by Jeff McLane.

Organized by ICA LA guest curator Anna Sew Hoy and Good Works Executive Director Anne Ellegood, Scratching at the Moon is the first focused survey of Asian American artists in a major Los Angeles contemporary art museum. The exhibition celebrates the work of an intergenerational group of thirteen leading artists in the Asian American community whose contributions to culture are multiple, ranging from their distinctive visual arts production to their commitment to pedagogy to their dedication to research, activism, and community engagement. Featured artists include Patty Chang, Young Chung, Vishal Jugdeo, Simon Leung, Michelle Lopez, Yong Soon Min, Na Mira, Amanda Ross-Ho, Miljohn Ruperto, Dean Sameshima, Anna Sew Hoy, Amy Yao, and Bruce Yonemoto. The exhibit is on view until July 28, 2024.

Scratching at the Moon centers on artistic production in Los Angeles to trace the overlapping activities among dynamic communities of Asian American artists who have contributed significantly to the city’s art world over the past two decades. The initial idea for the exhibition came in the summer of 2020 during a period of immense social upheaval. Still in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic marked by loss, unrest, and uncertainty, the movement in support of Black lives erupted across the country with public protests in the wake of egregious police violence. Simultaneously, Asian Americans faced increased attacks amid false rhetoric about the pandemic. In response, communities came together to uplift one another, strengthen bonds, and survive this singular global emergency. It was at this time that artist Anna Sew Hoy began to imagine an exhibition of Asian American artists with indelible ties to Los Angeles that would make visible the communities and relationships in which she had participated since returning to the city in 2002.

While Los Angeles has long been home to a large and growing Asian American population, the work of artists from diasporic immigrant communities remains underrepresented in art institutions in the city. Scratching at the Moon presents significant works—several created specifically for the exhibition—by artists who were born in the United States or who emigrated here from Korea, the Philippines, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Canada. Encompassing the mediums of video, multi-media installation, sculpture, ceramics, photography, and performance, these artists’ works confront such topics as the formation of identity, gender roles and class struggle, structural and environmental racism, immigration, cultural assimilation, gentrification, family dynamics and intergenerational teachings, and legacies of settler ideologies on academic disciplines. Scratching at the Moon also highlights the diverse stories of the Asian diaspora—undeniably “American” stories—that counter the hurtful untruths being deployed to further marginalize Asians of all backgrounds. Though the exhibition relies on the category of Asian American to redress the lack of representation, it also pulls apart that very category by honoring the diversity and multiplicity within it.

Scratching at the Moon argues that every body is an archive within which generations of experiences across continents and temporalities are held. The stories expressed by the works on view trouble and expand our understandings of what it means to be Asian American. Beyond superficial characteristics, they present a far more complex sense of identity as something informed by experiences of displacement, cross-cultural existence, misidentification, and marginalization, alongside strong family bonds, chosen communities, and resiliency. Contributing to efforts of coalition building, collaboration, and the beautiful entanglements that shape identity, Scratching at the Moon celebrates and historicizes the important work of these artists. Their commitment to community, criticality, and resistance is visible throughout the exhibition, and Scratching at the Moon provides an opportunity to bear witness, together, to the crucial stories they bring to light.

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