Because Freedom

Aug 4–26, 2023

Because Freedom celebrates Asian American experiences of struggle, healing, and resilience. Hung on the windows of Silver Eye Center for Photography, the three banners feature quotes from Asian American poets and writers Min Jin Lee, Ocean Vuong, and Yanyi. In response to surging anti-Asian violence and cultural stigmatization of mental health, Because Freedom centers the voices of a “model minority” whose feelings and traumas are often invisibilized. The exhibition opens on August 4th, coinciding with the originally scheduled start date of the 2023 Asian American Literature Festival before its controversial cancellation by the Smithsonian.

The banners are made from vibrantly colored Korean brocade, a material which originates from ancient China and was once reserved as a luxury fabric worn by nobility in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures. By elevating Asian American words through the opulent material of brocade, the banners present the quotes as collective mantras that make visible what Cathy Park Hong calls “minor feelings.” The title of the project is a reference to a line from Vuong’s debut novel. Through the public display and circulation of Asian American words, Because Freedom bears witness to both the strength and pain of the community, while affirming these authors as literary royalty.

During the exhibition period, a window decal at the entrance to Pedantic Arts Residency will feature a quote from Cathy Park Hong: “How do we speak honestly about the Asian American condition – if such a thing exists?” Passersby are invited to respond to the quote via a QR code by sharing their own thoughts.

Because Freedom will also host two public programs platforming Asian American Pittsburghers’ voices and nurturing community through an open mic and a book swap brunch.

Participating Artists

  1. Born in San Francisco and raised in Los Angeles, Lena Chen is a Chinese American writer, scholar, and artist currently pursuing a PhD in Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Encompassing new media, social practice, and performance, her practice examines Asian American histories of sex, labor, and migration. Creating mutual care networks and platforms for self-representation, she centers participatory and collaborative processes, which combine methods from art and social justice to engage audiences in reimagining personal and collective histories. A recipient of Mozilla Foundation’s 2022 Creative Media Award and B3 Biennial of the Moving Image’s 2019 “Best Emerging Talent", she has exhibited and performed at Transmediale (Berlin), Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Färgfabriken (Stockholm), Baltimore Museum of Art, Science Gallery Detroit, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), among others. She is a co-founder of JADED, Heal Her, and MATERNAL FANTASIES. Chen holds a B.A. in sociology from Harvard University and a MFA from Carnegie Mellon School of Art.

  2. Caroline Yoo is an interdisciplinary artist who was born and raised in the United States to Korean immigrants. Through her art practice of performance, social practice, intimate gatherings, and video installations, Yoo uses translation as a tool to map forgotten histories – to reveal psychological shadows haunting the diaspora – and perform contemporary translations of rituals for the living. Tracing the edges of hidden and silenced perspectives of the past to inform the personal and political of the present, Yoo visualizes narratives with multiple voices in tension with each other to highlight the complicated structures of empire and power unraveling imperial illusions through geopolitical poetry.

    In her social practice, Caroline strives for radical existence to envision space as alternative learning models for kinship, dreaming wild, processing unheard inheritance, or plant grounds for new futures.

    She is a co-founder and co-leader of Hwa Records, JADED, and Han Diaspora Group. Yoo has performed, exhibited, and culturally produced at Carnegie Museum of Art; Institute of Contemporary Art, San Francisco; University of Southern California, University of Michigan Ann Arbor; Kelly Strayhorn Theater and more.