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  • Venancio Shinki | Cultural Encounters

    Venancio Shinki (Peru, B. 1932 – D. 2016) Venancio Shinki was born in Supe, north of Lima, to Kizuke Shinki, a farmer and merchant who had emigrated from Japan, and Filomena Huamra, an indigenous Peruvian. The Peru of Shinki’s youth was marked by social unrest and anti-immigrant upheaval; at one point, his Japanese hacienda school was shuttered, and his father had to go into hiding for a time. From 1954 to 1962, Shinki attended the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, where his instruction was deeply influenced by European Informalism and American Expressionism. Shinki’s work evolved during the 1960s from informal abstraction to representation, as he gradually introduced more formal elements. During this time, he moved from the creation of spaces that play with the horizontal line—filled with what appear to be fragments of Peruvian Pre-Columbian huacas ("sacred monuments")—to bigger, dreamlike scenographies integrating earth tones and marble-like sculptures; and (most recently) a series of prints illustrating Japanese haikus. In an interview, Shinki’s widow offers insight into his work, describing how it went back and forth thematically with respect to his Japanese heritage. Significantly, it was not until 1999 that Shinki paid his first visit to Japan, where he was able finally to meet the family his father had left behind. Nevertheless, his lifelong body of work reveals a harmonious balance between Peruvian Pre-Columbian motifs and colors and Japanese elements—such as his manipulation of the horizon line, and his stylized use of Gutai elements in his informalism. In 1963, Shinki exhibited at the São Paulo Biennial and was introduced to José Gómez Sicre, founder of the Art Museum of the Americas. Impressed with Shinki’s innovative work, Sicre granted him his first-ever solo exhibition, which was held at the Organization of American States in 1968. back to collection

  • Rene Tosari | Cultural Encounters

    René Tosari (Suriname, b. 1948) René Tosari was born into a Javanese family on the Meezorg plantation in the District of Commewijne, on the south bank of the Suriname River, and was raised according to Javanese cultural traditions. Since then—like some other artists in this exhibition—he has largely divided his time between Suriname and the Netherlands. He began his art education in Suriname at the National Institute of Art and Culture (1967-1970), and later studied in Rotterdam at the Academy of Visual Arts (1970-1973) and at the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam (1980-1982). ​ In 1984, he cofounded the Waka Tjopu Collective, a group that helped elevate the visual arts into an important force in post-independence Suriname. In his own words, “art in Suriname must meet the needs, the desires of the masses to move forward as an independent nation.” The Javanese-Surinamese artist Soeki Irodikromo was also a member of the Collective, and spent time with Tosari in the Netherlands. This multidisciplinary group—a coalition of visual artists, photographers, graphic designers, and others—focused on Surinamese cultural diversity, promoting the art and its message rather than the artist. They played down the idea of the artist as an elite, emphasizing instead the more egalitarian concept of the artist as worker. ​ During the time of the Waka Tjopu Collective, Tosari imbued his work with a politically-charged syntax that addressed major issues of the day, such as decolonization, inequality, and diversity. His political art largely took the form of prints—a medium that has long been a powerful means of dissemination for artists and revolutionaries alike. Today, diversity continues to be a major theme of his work. ​ When the Collective began to slow its activities in 1990, Tosari returned to the Netherlands and began to focus on art education, shifting from printmaking to painting and drawing, and largely leaving behind his political work of the 1970s and ‘80s. During this phase, his work explored more personal concerns, such as diversity, plantation life, and the Amazon landscape. The latter, infused with vivid elements of his Javanese visual language, achieves a unique power in his canvases. ​ In 2014, Tosari—now in his sixties—returned to Suriname, where he lives and works today. He participated in the 18th São Paulo Biennial, and has frequently exhibited at the Readytex Art Gallery in Paramaribo. In 2018, the book René Tosari: Diversity is Power introduced his eclectic work to new admirers around the world. back to collection

  • Kereina Chang Fatt | Cultural Encounters

    Kereina Chang Fatt (Jamaica, b. 1975) Kerina Chang Fatt was born in Jamaica into a family of Chinese descent. In 1966, she obtained her diploma in painting from the Edna Manley College, and in 2009 earned her MA in art education from a joint program between her alma mater and Ohio State University. Fatt’s work deals with issues of gender, including the unique challenges faced by women artists throughout their careers. She also questions the categorization of art by gender. As she explains: "Art has the unique capacity to transcend gender roles or expectations and in its message stereotypes may be examined, challenged, reinforced or altogether shattered. What is women’s art? Is it timid, thoughtful, subdued, feisty, fearless, passionate, subversive? Is it solely art created by a woman? Or is it art created for women with themes uniquely woman? Perhaps women’s art encompasses all these ideas or maybe there can be no definitive answer. Women’s art can be as mysterious as the idea of woman herself and with certainty, somewhere within it all, there is a story being told." ​ Fatt's pieces do not directly address the influence of her roots and family legacy; that is, she does not make art that is overtly about her Chinese descent. The selection of her work for this exhibition demonstrates, among other things, that in some cases the Asian diaspora to Latin America—or, as here, the Caribbean—does not necessarily define the work of an artist; and (equally) may not define the artist as a person. It may be so distantly rooted in the persona that these cease to be significant variables. back to collection

  • Flora Fong | Cultural Encounters

    Flora Fong (Cuba, b. 1949) Flora Fong was born to a Cantonese father in Camagüey, Cuba, and completed her artistic training in 1970, graduating from the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana. Her early work explores surrealist and expressionist trends, linking these with her own Cuban experience. In the 1980s, following her intense study of Chinese art and calligraphy—first in Havana and then, in 1989, in China—her work evolved in a striking new direction. In an interview, she recalls her overwhelming curiosity to explore her Chinese heritage, a process she undertook independently and which became a point of departure for her mature work. Fong questions the fact that she was taught only Western art in art school, and reflects on her late but revelatory study of Chinese art: “In books and reproductions, I was struck by the skill reflected in the treatment of landscapes: the perception, the synthesis, the profound content conveyed by spatial relationships; the way they could paint flowers with just one brushstroke…” ​ Fong's study of Chinese calligraphy allowed her to use Chinese characters to depict ideas as well as visual motifs. For instance, she uses the logogram for the forest to represent the Cuban tropical forest in her work, and extensively (and evocatively) uses the Chinese characters for person, wind, sun, rain, cloud, mouth, garden, and mountain. Fong's works combine a diversity of subjects, such as the legacy of Chinese immigrants on the island (specifically, the experiences of her father); the ship as a symbol of the arduous journey by which Chinese immigrants made their way into the Americas; and more contemporary themes, such as Chinese cuisine. She combines these subjects with symbols and themes that are typical of the island, such as the Palma real (palm tree); the rooster, which was also a favorite motif of the well-known Cuban painter Mariano Rodriguez; Cuban coffee-makers; and—most importantly—the Caribbean cyclone, which is omnipresent in Fong’s work, as she describes herself as a cyclone in motion. back to collection

  • Artists | Cultural Encounters

    ARTISTS M.P. Alladin Reinier Asmoredjo Kereina Chang Fatt Margaret Chen Albert Chong Manuel Choy Loo Laura Fong Prosper Tikashi Fukushima Richard Fung Hisae Ikenaga Soeki Irodikromo Sri Irodikromo Arturo Kubotta Wifredo Lam Manabu Mabe Suchitra Mattai Cisco Merel Choy Rosendo Merel Choy Wendy Nanan Luis Nishizawa Tomie Ohtake Hiroyuki Okumura Kiyoto Ota Bernadette Persaud Sunil Puljhun Sonnylal Rambissoon Dhiradj Ramsamoedj Samuel Rumaldo Choy Carlos Runcie Tanaka Andrea Saito Kazuya Sakai Venancio Shinki Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi Eduardo Tokeshi Rene Tosari Yutaka Toyota Kazuo Wakabayashi Katarina Wong

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  • Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi | Cultural Encounters

    Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi (Suriname, b. 1952) Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi was born in Paramaribo, and grew up in a Chinese household. Her father was a Chinese businessman. She received a Catholic education at local elementary and secondary schools, and began training to be a teacher at the Advanced Teachers Training Institute in Paramaribo in 1972. After four years at the Institute, she followed a longtime ambition and migrated to the Netherlands, where she attended the Academy in Tilburg, earning a visual arts and education degree in 1979. ​ It was not until 1988 that Tjon Pian Gi, after years of teaching, began to devote herself fully to being an artist. Her artistic career and output can be seen as an exploration of three main themes. The first of these is the nature of firestone (flint), and the second is womanhood, and her own struggles—as a professional, a mother, and a wife—to balance her career and family within a culture rife with biases about the role of women in society. In her own words, her work explores the “existing prejudices and barriers withholding talented women from becoming professional artists.” The third subject of her work is Suriname’s multicultural society; here, Tjon Pian Gi has created a compelling artistic vision of Suriname as a true melting pot of Creoles, Chinese, Hindustani, Javanese, and Dutch people. She has also examined, in her art, her own hybrid upbringing within a Chinese family in a Dutch colony in the Caribbean. Throughout her career, Tjon Pian Gi has focused mainly on painting and drawing; but, beginning in 2005, she has expanded her repertoire to encompass video and filmmaking as well. She is also an avid writer, whose books include The Strength of Women (2009) and Short Stories (2012). She has exhibited at Readytex Art Gallery, and in 2012 had a residence at Vermont Studio Center, USA. In 2013 Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi won the Bridget Jones Award. back to collection

  • Kiyoto Ota | Cultural Encounters

    Kiyoto Ota (Japan, b. 1948) Kiyoto Ota was born in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. He began his artistic studies in Tokyo at the age of nineteen, moving to Mexico in 1972 at the age of twenty-three to study at the Escuela de Nacional de Pintura y Escultura (La Esmeralda), followed by studies at the Centro de Investigación y Experimentación Plastica in 1977; both institutions are part of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA). Ota obtained his master’s degree in sculpture at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas at UNAM in 1999. ​ Ota has lived in Mexico for more than 40 years; nevertheless, he still considers himself a Japanese artist, and his sculptures and large-scale installations embody the essence of his Japanese heritage. The artist explains that he is not consciously thinking about his heritage while working, but that these elements simply appear. He believes that perhaps his “intuition is Japanese.” ​ In his compositions, Ota favors materials such as stone, paper, iron, and wood. Always minimalist, his pieces are charged with personal meaning, often alluding to private experiences and reflections. His wooden work addresses the relationship between space-and-place and space-and-privacy; some of these structures recreate the shape of the uterus, while others are houses that allow the viewer to experiment with sensorial experiences. His iron work is created conceptually, using metal as a catalyst of energy. ​ Ota moved to Mexico in search of a new experience—an exchange of ideas different from that available to friends of his who traveled to Paris or New York for inspiration. Mexico has given the artist the freedom to follow his own, dynamically innovative path. ​ Ota has exhibited extensively around the world. Notably, he contributed work to the extraordinary group exhibition Crystal Jungle (2011) at the Museo Universitario de Chopo, which included a diverse group of Japanese artists living in Mexico, as well as Mexican artists descended from Japanese families. He also participated in Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibition,Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of the Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City and São Paulo in 2017. back to collection

  • Soeki Irodikromo | Cultural Encounters

    Soeki Irodikromo (Suriname, b. 1945 - D. 2020) ​ Soeki Irodikromo was born to Javanese parents in Suriname, a former Dutch colony that did not gain independence until 1975. Like many artists from the Dutch-speaking nation, Irodikromo journeyed to the Netherlands in the 1960s to undertake formal art training in Rotterdam, where his intense study of the CoBrA movement left a lasting impression on his body of work. In the late 1970s, he received a scholarship to travel to Indonesia, where he learned batik, a traditional Indonesian technique of wax-resist dyeing. Upon his return to Suriname, Irodikromo helped reintroduce this art form to the country. Irodikromo considers Suriname to be a genuine melting pot of cultures, and this hybridity and cultural diversity can be seen in his work. His paintings, batik, ceramics, and drawings reveal a host of influences, from Indonesian mythology and indigenous motifs to the rich colors of the Surinamese jungle and the avant-garde techniques of the CoBrA movement—which combined strong colors with a rebelliousness and spontaneity inspired by the artistic process of small children, who approach their work without a preconceived plan. In his work, Irodikromo marshals elements of Eastern and Western culture that richly evoke the cultural divides and fusions of his native Suriname, where indigenous populations coexist and mix with the descendants of both the former Dutch colonists and the contract workers imported by the Dutch from India, China, and Indonesia. Untitled (1978-1986), an oil painting on canvas, rich in color and texture, is inspired by the figure of Ravana, the multi-headed demon from the Hindu epic Ramayana. (The painting was first associated with Barong, a character from Balinese mythology until sources close to the artist identified it as Ravana.) In this painting, Irodikromo presents only a head, which he describes as “a moment of explosion, horror, and exuberance.” In Javanese culture, different versions of Ravana can be seen in wood-carved decorations, which usually take the form of high-relief carvings of the head of a dragon crowned by a lion’s mane and decorated with flowers and arabesque motifs. Here, Irodikromo has transferred the image of the dragon to the fabric by means of thick brushstrokes, to recreate the texture and patterns of a wood carving. Using saturated, vibrant colors, he projects the richness and fullness of the image of Ravana; in so doing, he creates his own version of the dragon, as well as a highly decorative piece typical of Indonesian art. This work was given to the AMA by the Surinamese government in 1987. We would like to commemorate the life of Soeki Irodikromo, who passed away during the making of this project and whose legacy is a key part of this exhibition. back to collection

  • Hisae Ikenaga | Cultural Encounters

    Hisae Ikenaga (Mexico, b. 1977) Hisea Ikenaga was born in Mexico City to a Japanese father and a Mexican mother. Her father arrived in Mexico in the 1960s from the city of Hita-shi in the Ōita Prefecture, which he left at age 20 to see the world. Her mother, always mindful that her children be aware of their Japanese heritage, introduced Ikenaga and her siblings to the large Japanese colony in Mexico. ​ Ikenaga finished her bachelor’s degree at Mexico’s Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado (also known as La Esmeralda) in 2002, having studied also at the University of Art and Design of Kyoto in Japan in 2000 as part of a student exchange program. She holds a master’s degree in Theory and Practice in Contemporary Art from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (2004). ​ Ikenaga's conceptual artwork uses aspects of performance, installation, sculpture, and photography to explore the tensions between the quotidian meanings of objects in everyday life and the absurdities and ambiguities that these meanings can hold. Her concepts are realized through the artful manipulation of everyday behaviors and objects such as furniture, rulers, golf balls, and phone books. ​ As part of her student exchange program in Japan, Ikenaga developed a project in which she selected everyday objects that were strikingly different from ones she had known in Mexico and reproduced them using different materials, creating new, transformed versions which she displayed in a gallery. This exercise allowed Ikenaga to contrast the primarily industrial nature of Japanese commodities with the more artisanal production of objects in Mexico. Personally, she does not prefer one over the other; as an artist obsessed with objects and their meanings, she has sought, through this contrast, to illustrate the balance she feels between the two cultures, especially regarding their influence on her artistic production. ​ Ikenaga divides her time between Madrid and France while exhibiting her work extensively around the world. She participated in the exhibition Crystal Jungle (2011) at the Museo Universitario de Chopo, which included a diverse group of Japanese artists living in Mexico as well as Mexican artists descended from Japanese families. back to collection

  • Collection & Artists | Cultural Encounters

    Menu Japan - Peru Japan - Brazil Japan - Argentina Japan - Mexico China - Jamaica China - Cuba China - Panama China - Suriname China - Trinidad & Tobago India - Guyana India - Trinidad & Tobago India - Suriname Indonesia - Suriname Japan - Peru After Brazil, Peru is host to the second-largest Japanese population in South America, with approximately 80,000 inhabitants of Japanese descent. The Japanese legacy in Peru goes back to the late nineteenth century, when a shortage of indigenous labor led Peruvian planters to reach out to Asian countries for migrant workers; in 1899, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in a group of 790 to work on Peru’s cotton and sugar plantations. (As was the case in Argentina, the majority of Japanese migrants who settled in Peru were from Okinawa.) From 1899 to the start of World War II, the flow of contracted Japanese laborers to Peru was more or less continuous. While many Japanese returned to their homeland once their contracts had expired, others settled in cities like Lima to work as domestic servants and street vendors. By the 1920s, many had achieved commercial success; for instance, beginning around 1904, Japanese barbers created a substantial niche within their profession in cities such as Callao and Lima. Nevertheless, the Japanese in Peru faced a difficult assimilation. During World War II, for instance, Japanese-Peruvians suffered significant persecution, due to Japan’s role in the war and Peru’s close relationship with the United States. These attitudes led to such events as an anti-Japanese riot in 1940 and (in the US) the mass detention of Japanese-Peruvians in Texas. Despite these setbacks, the Japanese population in Peru continued to flourish during the 1950s and ‘60s. Renewed pride in their cultural heritage, together with their painstaking efforts to preserve traditional Japanese arts—while simultaneously embracing Peruvian culture—characterized this period, which was one of increasing acceptance of the Japanese by their fellow Peruvians. In 1990, Alberto Fujimori, a politician of Japanese descent, was elected president of Peru, winning two consecutive terms, and becoming one the most controversial and contested presidents in the history of Peru. Today, the Asociación Peruano Japonesa works with different generations of the Japanese community to promote arts and research. The association also maintains a museum of the history of Japanese migration to Peru. One of the many legacies of the Japanese influx to Peru is an array of talented artists of all disciplines and ages, representing at least three generations. These include Eduardo Tokeshi, Carlos Runcie Tanaka, and Andrea Saito, all of whom have developed a contemporary artistic language that bridges their Japanese heritage with their Latin American upbringing. Arturo Kubotta Andrea Saito Venancio Shinki Carlos Runcie Tanaka Eduardo Tokeshi In 1908, the transatlantic ship Kasato Maru anchored at the Port of Santos in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, bearing the very first contingent of Japanese migrants contracted for work on Brazil’s coffee plantations. After the failure of the European migration initiative of the second half of the nineteenth century, the Brazilian government turned to Japanese immigration as a lucrative way to settle entire families in the coffee-producing region, to both work and populate the land. The Japanese government’s (somewhat different) goal was to send workers to Brazil who could then return to Japan with economic capital. The Japanese migration to Brazil can be divided into three stages: the intensive influx period (1908–1924); the restriction period (1942–1953), in which immigration was restricted due to Japan’s role in World War II; and the postwar period (1952–1960s), during which Brazil authorized 9,000 Japanese families to work on agricultural development. Due to the Japanese vital role in its rural economy, Brazil—unlike other Latin American countries—chose not to expel its Japanese workers during WWII, despite the threat they could pose to national security. However, despite their economic importance to their adopted nation, the Japanese were not well treated by the Brazilian government, who had long regarded them as second-class citizens. This added to the numerous difficulties they faced upon arrival—such as the challenges of a foreign climate, culture, language, diet, and beliefs. Artist Tomoo Handa recalls that he and his fellow countrymen were forced to “live in a house without tatami (floor mat), to not use the kimono, to move aside the bowl and the hashi (chopsticks) and to drink coffee instead of tea.” Cultural influence, however, tends to be a two-way street. Today, the legacy of the vast Japanese-Brazilian community has thoroughly permeated the cultural landscape of São Paulo; notable examples include Tomie Ohtake’s public artworks and the many programs organized by Bunkyo (the Sociedade Brasileira de Cultura Japonesa e de Assistência Social ), which houses a research center and a museum devoted to the history of the Japanese migration. Another cultural boon of the migration was the creation of Seibi-Kai (Grupo de Artistas Plásticos de São Paulo), a powerful coalition of Japanese-Brazilian artists. By 1965, Seibi-Kai had 200 subscribers, ranging from sculptors to painters, including the famed artist Manabu Mabe. A legacy of this cultural initiative has been three generations of well-known contemporary Japanese-Brazilian artists. In 2008, the Instituto Tomie Ohtake published the book Laços do Olhar: Roteiros Entre o Brasil e o Japão, an ambitious research and exhibition project that tracked the vast cultural and visual exchange between Brazil and Japan. Tikashi Fukushima Manabu Mabe Tomie Ohtake Yutaka Toyota Kazuo Wakabayashi Japan - Brazil In the great migrations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Argentina was second only to the United States as a haven for immigrants, many of them Japanese. The Japanese migration to Argentina throughout this period can be divided into two major waves. The first, which began around 1908 and ran into the 1930s, coincided with the first Japanese migrations to Brazil; the second wave began after World War II and lasted until the 1960s—when Japanese migration to Latin America in general fell off sharply, due to the newly booming Japanese economy. In both waves, the majority of the Japanese who arrived in Argentina did not migrate directly from Japan but entered the country by way of Brazil, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Bolivia. Japanese immigration and settlement in Argentina followed virtually the same pattern as in Peru (which, like Argentina, drew most of its Japanese immigrants from Okinawa). In both countries, a significant majority of the migrants settled in the capital city, finding work as domestic servants, factory workers, and longshoremen; and, in some cases, eventually opened their own cafes, laundromats, and other businesses. Unlike in Peru, however, the Japanese in Argentina were spared the devastating disruptions of internment and relocation in the 1940s. There are now more than thirty institutions—including medical, immigration, education, and general aid associations, cultural centers, and clubs—that work throughout Argentina to support and preserve the Japanese-Argentine community and their traditions. A notable figure of the Japanese diaspora in Argentina is the celebrated artist Kazuya Sakai, whose works unify Eastern and Western influences, often shifting from abstract expressionism to geometric abstraction. Kazuya Sakai Japan - Argentina The first Japanese migrations to Mexico can be traced to the sixteenth century, to the inception of the Manila Galleon Trade (1565–1815), which drew migrants from Japan, China, and the Philippines to the Americas, to trade Far Eastern goods for New World silver. However, it was not until 1897 that Japanese immigrants began to enter Mexico in significant numbers, most of them arriving at the southern state of Chiapas to work in sugar and coffee plantations or in mines. By 1910, some 10,000 Japanese had settled in the country. With the end of the tumultuous Mexican Revolution in 1920, vibrant communities of cotton farmers, fishermen, and merchants began to flourish in Mexico's northern regions, such as Baja California. However, during the Pacific War—due to Mexico’s alliance with the US—entire Japanese communities suffered dislocation when the Mexican government forced them out of Pacific coastal areas and away from northern borders. This resulted in a mass exodus of Japanese to big cities, notably Mexico City and Guadalajara, where they eventually put down roots and established institutions, such as the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Japonés, to preserve their cultural heritage. In 2011, curator Miho Hagino organized the exhibition Crystal Jungle at the Museo Universitario de Chopo, which included a diverse range of contemporary artists of Japanese descent. Some, like Luis Nishizawa and Hisae Ikenaga, represent separate generations of Japanese-Mexicans, with their differing artistic viewpoints; while others, like Kiyoto Ota and Hiroyuki Okumura, have only recently moved to Mexico and offer a newcomer's perspective on this fascinating country and community. Hisae Ikenaga Luis Nishizawa Hiroyuki Okumura Kiyoto Ota Japan - Mexico Most of the Chinese migrants to the British West Indies—Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana—belonged to the subethnic group Hakka of the Guangzhou (Canton) province of China; others came by way of Panama. The history of Chinese migration to Jamaica, as described by historian Patrick Bryan, can be divided into three periods. The first began in 1854—with the arrival of the first Chinese contract workers at Jamaican plantations—and ended in 1886, when the indentureship system was determined to be unsustainable, due to high costs as well as rampant violations of work contracts by plantation owners. The second period, which saw an influx of free businessmen (as opposed to indentured workers), lasted from the early 1900s to the 1940s. During this time, Chinese immigrants settled in Jamaica mostly as prosperous merchants in the grocery trade business, building a strong ethnic middle class. A salient feature of this era is the large number of Chinese women who migrated to Jamaica along with their husbands and fiancés, obeying a policy that was intended to prevent the Chinese from mixing with locals. Anti-Chinese sentiment likewise took a toll on the immigrants' businesses, many of which were wiped out in periodic eruptions of mass prejudice, such as during the labor riots of 1938. Additionally, one of the biggest obstacles faced by the Chinese in Jamaica was their difficulties with the languages of their new home, particularly Jamaican Creole. Nevertheless, Chinese businesses flourished, and a middle class gradually arose, along with a network of associations and clubs dedicated to preserving the Chinese community and traditions. The third migratory period began during the 1980s, when Hong Kong and Taiwanese entrepreneurs set up textile factories on the island, which were staffed by Chinese migrant workers. From these confluences of Chinese cultural, ethnic, and racial assimilation, Jamaica has nurtured a rich spectrum of modern and contemporary artists. Some of these artists, notably Margaret Chen and Albert Chong, embrace their (divided) Chinese identity in their work; others, while not directly addressing their Chinese heritage, illuminate other aspects of their identity, such as (in the case of Kereina Chang Fatt) the plight of the female artist in realms dominated by men. The National Gallery of Jamaica houses an extensive collection of three generations of works by Jamaican-Chinese artists. Kereina Chang Fatt Margaret Chen Albert Chong China - Jamaica The Chinese diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean was a two-way process. On the one hand, it filled a demand for contracted labor following the end of the African slave trade; e.g., to fuel the booming Cuban sugar industry. On the other, a colonial expansion within China itself fostered internal movements that facilitated the migrations. The contract laborers, known as “coolies” (now a derogatory term), were drawn almost entirely from the vicinity of the Pearl River Delta, notably the city of Canton in Guangzhou province. A small number came from other provinces in the region, such as Fujian or the Portuguese colony of Macao. The nearby British colony of Hong Kong, meanwhile, refused to participate in this contentious practice. In Cuba, an initial period of open migration was inaugurated in 1847, when Cuba was still a Spanish colony, but came to a swift end in 1877 with the Treaty of Peking, which prohibited the transportation of Chinese people to Cuba under labor contracts. Plantation labor in Cuba had not changed significantly since the end of slavery; though the Chinese migrants were technically contract laborers, their treatment on the sugar plantations was unremittingly harsh. As was the case in other parts of the Caribbean, most of the Chinese laborers in Cuba were male. The Chinese population in Cuba played an active role in the wars for independence from Spain. Following Cuba’s independence in 1902, the United States—who between 1890 and 1920 led numerous military interventions into Cuba—wielded considerable influence on the new government. When US authorities limited Chinese immigration to the US in the early 1900s, Cuba quickly followed suit. Despite these laws, a steady, though now illegal, influx of young Chinese males continued to flow into Cuba in search of work. And even with the restrictions in place, there was a brief span—between 1917 and 1922—when free Chinese were permitted to migrate to Cuba to work in the sugar-producing regions or to open small businesses. Despite the discrimination they faced—both prior to and after Cuban independence from Spain—the Chinese assimilation in Cuba (and in the Caribbean in general) was more rapid than that of other Asian immigrants in the region, owing partly to its majority-male demographics. Chinese immigrants soon established niches within the laundry and produce industries, and built the Chinatown district in Havana, which at its peak supported two movie theaters, a cultural club, and several Chinese-language newspapers. The Cuban-Chinese community maintained strong ties with their cultural traditions and beliefs. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, a substantial part of the Cuban-Chinese population left the island, the majority of them settling in the US. In the 1990s, Cuba initiated several rehabilitation projects in Chinatown, including the creation of La Casa de Artes y Tradiciones Chinas (the House of Chinese Arts and Traditions). One Cuban-Chinese artist who vividly embodies his country’s blending of cultures and ethnicities is the modern artist Wifredo Lam. Academics have tended to view Lam through the lens of the European avant-garde, singling out his debts to Picasso as well as his role in the surrealist movement; little has been written on the influence of his Chinese heritage on his work, which some even regard as nonexistent. More recently, however, scholars have begun to address Lam’s unique sensibilities from the point of view of the Chinese migration to Cuba. Wifredo Lam Katarina Wong China - Cuba Although there are other New World nations with greater numbers of Chinese, Panama—which has the fourth-largest population of people of Chinese ancestry in the Americas—is a special case in that it is a small country with a low overall population. The first significant wave of migration from China arrived in Panama in the 1850s, attracted by the California Gold Rush; this influx brought new life to the dormant project of linking Panama and the United States by way of an interoceanic railroad, whose completion was largely dependent on the labor of Chinese immigrants. Panama was soon a bustling transit point between China and such destinations as the United States, Cuba, and Peru. The Chinese in Panama soon developed a strong merchant class that shielded many of them from foreign exploitation; for instance, during the first, failed effort (by the French) to dig a shipping canal through the Isthmus of Panama in the 1880s, attempts to use Chinese as cheap labor did not succeed. Then, after Panama’s secession from Colombia—a direct result of intervention by the US in its own (successful) attempt to build the canal—the new republic of Panama adopted in 1904 strict policies intended to stem the tide of would-be immigrants. In spite of this, thousands of Chinese immigrants, many of whom entered Panama illegally, managed to assimilate into the new culture. The assimilation was an arduous one. From 1904 to the 1940s, the Chinese, widely regarded in Panama as indeseables (undesirables), were harshly persecuted. Their citizenship was revoked in 1941, only to be reestablished five years later; finally, in the 1950s, a new generation of Panamanian-Chinese professionals firmly established their indispensability to the small nation’s economy. Amidst these tensions, the Chinese community built a prosperous Chinatown district that in the 1970s reached its cultural and economic zenith. Today, Panama City has a new Chinatown, and the influx of immigrants from China continues to be steady. As a result of this unbroken flow of migrants—from China since the mid-nineteenth century, and from Taiwan since the late twentieth century—the Chinese community in Panama has become extraordinarily diverse. Today, acculturation and ethnic identity are signature themes of Panama’s numerous second- and third-generation Chinese contemporary artists; particularly Cisco Merel, Samuel Romaldo Choy, and Laura Fong Prosper, who, together, memorably address these issues in their collective #Panachina project. Manuel Choy Loo Laura Fong Prosper Cisco Merel Choy Rosendo Merel Choy Samuel Rumaldo Choy China - Panama The Asian diaspora in Suriname followed a very particular course, due to the unique challenges faced by the Dutch, who had colonized Suriname, in importing labor. The indentured workers who came to the inland Caribbean country to work on its sugar, coffee, and cotton plantations originated from three distinct Asian countries: China (2,600 people), India (34,000), and Indonesia (33,000). Even before the Dutch ended slavery in the country in 1863, the colonial government had begun relocating workers from Java to Suriname as early as 1853, following the success of the British in transporting plantation workers from India to Guyana; however, the transaction turned out to be too expensive, and not very appealing for the planters. China: Between 1853 and the 1870s, as part of its initiative to replace the slave workers, the Dutch government imported contract labor from Canton, Hong Kong, and Macao. This strategy proved too costly in the long run, as workers did not renew their contracts, choosing instead to open their own small businesses in Suriname or else return to China. In an attempt to make the contracts more appealing to both workers and planters, the government added travel benefits, such as return tickets to China, as well as initiatives to bring entire families to Suriname; but none of these efforts sat well with the planters, and in 1870 the Chinese indentured migration ended. From the mid-1870s through the 1930s, however, a new wave of “free” (unindentured) Chinese flowed into Suriname. Kit-Ling Tjon Pian Gi China - Suriname Richard Fung China - Trinidad and Tobago The earliest migration of Chinese workers to Trinidad can be traced to the year 1806, when the ship Fortitude arrived at Trinidadian shores carrying a group of Chinese men recruited from various parts of Asia. Chinese immigration nevertheless was meager until the 1834 British abolition of slavery created a shortage of field workers on Trinidad. Authorities responded by initiating the Chinese indenture trade, which between 1853 and 1866 brought at least 2,500 Chinese, most of them men, to work on Trinidadian sugar plantations. In the years that followed, this indentured labor force gradually diminished, as workers abandoned the plantations or bought out the remaining years of their contracts. This was followed by a wave of “free” Chinese immigration, wherein thousands of migrants fleeing poverty in China were allowed to settle and work in Trinidad without the burdens of indentureship. Meanwhile, thousands of formerly indentured workers, who had chosen not to return to China, built new livelihoods in Trinidad’s cities as tailors, cooks, barbers, and in other professions. The extraordinarily rapid assimilation of the Chinese in the Caribbean—and in Trinidad in particular—was driven largely by the majority-male demographics of the indentured migration, which resulted in Chinese immigrants marrying Caribbean women. India - Guyana The Asian migration to Guyana resembles, in many respects, the contemporaneous Asian migrations to Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago: in each case, Indian indentured laborers were systematically imported from the subcontinent of India, ostensibly to fill the labor shortage created by the British abolition of slavery. Guyana, however, was one of the British Empire’s most agriculturally fertile West Indian colonies at the time of abolition, and its sugar planters were particularly active in petitioning their government to import contract workers to replace the African slaves—all of which led to an unusually large influx of migrants from such countries as India, China, and Portugal. As with the migrations to Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago, the vast majority of these foreign workers were from India. The first two migrant vessels to arrive from Calcutta, the Whitby and the Hesperus, docked at Guyana on May 5th, 1838, with more than 300 men, 11 women, and 17 children. Despite the racial and cultural tensions under which they were forced to live during their servitude, Guyana’s Indian migrants—predominantly Hindus, with a small minority of Muslims—were generally allowed to maintain their traditions and religions. By 1917, when indentureship was finally eliminated, more than 230,000 Indians had settled in Guyana, making them the largest ethnic group in the inland Caribbean country. In 2017, the Guyana Indian Indentureship Abolition Association, together with the Publication Arts Forum, organized the exhibition Ganga Ship 1917: The Long Journey, which showcased the work of several generations of contemporary Guyanese artists of Indian descent, such as Bernadette Indira Persaud. In their artworks, Persaud and her fellow Guyana-born artist Suchitra Mattai shown the pressures, traumas, and yearnings experienced by migrants to Guyana and their descendants, largely from the point of view of women. Persaud's politically-themed work deals memorably with issues of freedom, repression, the transplantation of East Indian culture into Guyana, and power relationships between Caribbean cultures and other parts of the world. Mattai's work explores the intricacies of Guyana’s colonization, the various "gazes" of migratory actors, and the notion of “home”—all of which she situates within the framework of indentures and the interoceanic journeys of those who left their homes (and often their families) to seek work in Guyana. Suchitra Mattai Bernadette Persaud India - Trinidad and Tobago With the waning of Chinese immigration, British authorities next looked to East India as a source of indentured labor for Trinidad’s plantations. Most of their recruits came from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. On May 30, 1845, the transatlantic boat Fath Al Razack arrived at Trinidad with 225 indentured workers, the first ripple of what would be of a massive wave of Indian migration. By 1917, due to pressure from Indian nationalists, the indenture system was abolished, and the flow of East Indian laborers to the island nation came to an end; by then, Trinidad’s Indian population had grown to more than 145,000. Compared to that of the Chinese, the assimilation of Indian culture in Trinidad was a relatively slow, complex, and syncretic process, due to its more gender-balanced demographics: labor recruiters in India often shipped entire families, whose languages, castes, and religions (primarily Hinduism and Islam) were important familial bonds. Eventually, Indian music, cuisine, art, and other customs achieved a partial assimilation by amalgamating with those of the host culture. M.P. Alladin Wendy Nanan Sonnylal Rambissoon The Asian diaspora in Suriname followed a very particular course, due to the unique challenges faced by the Dutch, who had colonized Suriname, in importing labor. The indentured workers who came to the inland Caribbean country to work on its sugar, coffee, and cotton plantations originated from three distinct Asian countries: China (2,600 people), India (34,000), and Indonesia (33,000). Even before the Dutch ended slavery in the country in 1863, the colonial government had begun relocating workers from Java to Suriname as early as 1853, following the success of the British in transporting plantation workers from India to Guyana; however, the transaction turned out to be too expensive, and not very appealing for the planters. ​ India: After the failure of Chinese indentured labor in Suriname, the Dutch government—still envying the success of the British in transporting Indian workers to Guyana—negotiated a deal with the British government to allow the Dutch to bring their own Indian labor to Suriname. One of the main concerns of the British was the high mortality rate of plantation workers in Suriname, so the deal they made with the Dutch stipulated that they should have a permanent consul in Suriname to oversee the management of labor and the treatment of the workers. However, despite the watchful eye of the British consul, the Dutch planters continued to run their estates more or less like slave plantations, and conditions for the Indian workers were unremittingly harsh. The first boat of Indian migrants arrived in 1873, and this brutal form of indentured servitude continued until 1916. Sunil Puljhun Dhiradj Ramsamoedj India - Suriname The Asian diaspora in Suriname followed a very particular course, due to the unique challenges faced by the Dutch, who had colonized Suriname, in importing labor. The indentured workers who came to the inland Caribbean country to work on its sugar, coffee, and cotton plantations originated from three distinct Asian countries: China (2,600 people), India (34,000), and Indonesia (33,000). Even before the Dutch ended slavery in the country in 1863, the colonial government had begun relocating workers from Java to Suriname as early as 1853, following the success of the British in transporting plantation workers from India to Guyana; however, the transaction turned out to be too expensive, and not very appealing for the planters. ​ Indonesia: The first major Javanese migration of workers to Suriname began in 1890 through the Dutch company Soesmans Emigratie en Commissie Kantoor. Despite the Dutch colonization of Java, migrant labor in Suriname had generally come from East India through British companies, as the importing of Javanese labor was more costly. Nevertheless, Javanese migration was part of a new political effort by the Dutch to become less dependent on the British colonial government in India. A second wave of migration from Java took place from 1930 through the end of World War II; this initiative encouraged entire families to settle in Suriname to help populate the country. Javanese culture in Suriname has since mingled with the nation’s other cultures, including Indian, Chinese, Indigenous, African, and Dutch. After the fulfillment of their contracts, many Indians and Javanese chose to stay in Suriname to continue working in the agricultural industry. Today, about 42% of Suriname’s population is of Asian descent. A legacy of the Asian migrations to Suriname is its remarkable range of artists, many of whom explore issues of identity, heritage, and tradition. For instance, Soeki and Sri Irodikromo—father and daughter artists who represent two generations of artists of Javanese descent—incorporate Javanese techniques and iconography into their work, together with elements of Suriname’s diverse culture. Another notable example is Dhiradj Ramsamoedj, who deals with issues of otherness, family bonds, cultural traditions, and his own intricate journey to discover his Indian heritage. Reinier Asmoredjo Soeki Irodikromo Sri Irodikromo Rene Tosari Indonesia - Suriname Back to Top

  • Suchitra Mattai | Cultural Encounters

    Suchitra Mattai (Guyana, b. 1974) Suchitra Mattai’s family has its roots in the wave of Indian migrants who arrived in British Guiana over a century ago to work as indentured servants. An immigrant herself, Mattai left Guyana when she was three years old and has since lived in Wolfville, Nova Scotia; Udaipur, India; and, in the United States, in Philadelphia, New York, Minneapolis, and Denver, where she currently resides. She received her MFA in painting and drawing and her MA in South Asian art from the University of Pennsylvania; while pursuing her PhD in South Asian art, she opted to become a full-time artist. Mattai is a multimedia artist who works with painting, collage, installation, video, and sculpture. Her materials range from found paintings and clippings from National Geographic to needlepoint and embroidery. ​ Mattai’s highly conceptual pieces deal with issues of identity and the role of women in the arts while challenging suppressive narratives such as those associated with colonialism. Using landscape as a metaphor for an imagined identity, she creates multilayered conceptual landscapes out of the hegemonic detritus of colonialism—repurposing materials such as textiles to reflect on the imprint of colonialism on her family history, or on the role of women in artistic discourse. In her creative process, Mattai (in her words) “collaborates with the past,” using found objects and appropriating cultural, historic, and domestic elements. Her work also illuminates her concept of home and family, as she explains: “Through family narratives, memories, and photographs, I have always been reminded of my homeland, yet simultaneously felt alienated from it. My family’s migratory path from Guyana to Canada to the United States never led to a place of connection.” ​ In El Dorado After All , a work of woven mixed-media based on a found photo of a possible location of El Dorado (the legendary kingdom of gold sought by conquistadors), Mattai explores the idea of home and colonization, while referencing the weaving practices of her mother and grandmothers, which she uses as a metaphor for the interlacing of cultures. ​ Similarly, in her collage Untitled , Mattai fuses together fragments of her past—including images of Hindu goddesses and scraps of knitting magazines from the 1950s and 1960s—in search of a lucid cultural identity and that ever-elusive sense of connection. back to collection

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