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The Edgar P. Richardson Symposium Asian American Portraits of Encounter: Between Image & Word was held on April 14, 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery’s McEvoy Auditorium and featured readings by seven renowned Asian Pacific American writers: Bao Phi, Marianne Villanueva, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Kazim Ali, Anna Kazumi Stahl, David Henry Hwang, and Garrett Hongo.
The purpose of the symposium was eloquently expressed by Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, editor of the Asian American Literary Review, in his opening remarks:
“There’s greater production of Asian American arts and letters now than ever before, but I think that it’s easy to see the writers as if they’re at their separate tables at a giant book fair, or artists at their respective galleries, sort of as a chain of islands of disparate talents… And the impetus for this event is to view Asian American arts and letters as a living body, a living community that needs nurturing and provoking, precisely by means of exchange and conversation, and we hope today’s event provides these sorts of exchange and dialogue.”
Konrad Ng, Director of the Smithsonian APA Program, also gave remarks via video that compliment the mission of the symposium:
“…what you do, what you write, what you create, is of great importance and relevance because the meaning of your work far exceeds the fact of its existence. Your work captures the particularities of this time and allows future generations to admire creative expression and respect critical interventions. The idea of today’s event grew out of the recognition that art and literature possess profound powers, and the encounter between Asian American writers, as they respond to Asian American portraiture, could incubate critical acts of creativity. “
The four-hour symposium also featured the artwork of Roger Shimomura, Hey Yeon Nam, CYJO, Shizu Saldamando, Hong Chun Zhang, Tam Tran, and Satomi Shirai, all of which are currently on display in the Asian American Portraits of Encounter exhibition. Each of the seven participating writers was paired with a visual portrait from the exhibition and asked to create an original literary work in response. Presented in the form of poems, short stories, and plays, these response pieces explored themes of identity, immigration, xenophobia, Asian American stereotypes, and cultural dissonance. The writers also shared personal anecdotes and other works from their oeuvre with similar thematic content. Ranging from comedic send-ups of youth culture to deeply heartfelt narrations of the artists’ own creative and personal journeys, the great diversity of works presented that afternoon provided a bridge between the visual and literary arts, and hopefully prompted some thought-provoking discussions on what it means to be Asian American today.
Watch the webcast video below or on our Ustream page.
Between Image & Word was organized and presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Asian American Literary Review with generous funding from the Commissioner Edgar P. Richardson Symposium Fund of the National Portrait Gallery and OCA-DC.