asian mamas working in the arts

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amwa retreat 2017 recap and thoughts

On November 11 & 12th, amwa convened for our first ever retreat. The weekend invited us to come together to cultivate community and hold space for open dialogue and reflections on our collective past, present and futures as expressed through art, design, and organizing. With workshops, group activities, and (of course lots and lots) of food the retreat aimed to celebrate and connect our member’s uniquely beautiful and creative nuanced pan-asian identities.

 photo by eunhae

photo by eunhae

We were hosted at Nanum Farm, a Korean-owned educational, organic farm run by Nanum, a NGO that promotes cultural education and intercultural relationships based in LA. Currently, Nanum Farm runs Nanum Cultural School at the farm to teach children organic farming and "Green Sensibility."

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Upon arriving Brittany used partnered drawing and active listening as tools for members to share their varied experiences of home. Next, Jasmine led the group through an hour long contact improv and choreography workshop. We laughed and enjoyed dance as an artistic expression and a group act of connection. These workshops served as reminders that art and practice can also be used as a means of caring for ourselves as well as one another.

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The evening discussion on pan-asian futurity and techno-orientalism, co-led by Maggi and Jasmine, was especially engaging. Building on topics covered in the writings of Dawn Chan “Tomorrow Never Dies”, “ In Search of My Robot: Race, Technology, and the Asian American Body” by Margaret Rhee, and Gregory Jerome Hampton’s Imagining Slaves and Robots "From Fritz Lang to Janelle Monae,"  as a group we questioned the ways forward and productively struggled to identify the balance between themes of call out versus call in, reinvention and erasure, and appropriation and appreciation.

The retreat offered amwa space to hold difficult conversations, generate intentional language (#dynamicandinfinite), and share and digest experiences that sometimes go unspoken. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the retreat left us feeling energized and inspired as we took some of these important questions back to our lives and practices in Los Angeles:

  • How will we leverage our privileges to establish solidarity within our community and with other POC communities?
  • How will we combat anti-blackness in our communities, families and relationships?
  • How will we apply similar strategies from afrofuturism, such as its ability to to critique contemporary dilemmas of people of color and revise historical events, to pan-asian futurity and rapidly increasing depictions of techno orientalism without appropriating the genre?
  • What does a non-western imaginary look like that represents our histories and considers the implications of the dominance of east asian imagery in futurism?
  • How will we integrate and leave evidence of our own identities in our work to push forward new meanings without being tokenized?

Possibly the largest overarching question, with the above concerns in mind, surfaced: in this current social and political climate, what will our resistance look like? There is no simple answer or action to this question. However, what is clear is that moving forward amwa’s hope is to continuously challenge us to consider in this moment how can we use art and practice to build a rich but nuanced space for pan asian identities and experiences that are neither expendable nor interchangeable.

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A special thank you to all the mamas who organized accommodations, facilitated workshops and shared themselves throughout the retreat.

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Written by bianca nasser