Margaret Kasahara’s pop art pokes at Asian stereotypes

Americanese by Margaret Kasahara

Margaret Kasahara was almost half an hour late to the opening reception of her first Denver solo exhibit, at the Sandra Phillips Gallery along the Arts District on Santa Fe Drive. Her fans, friends and collectors milled around soaking in the art on the wall, and made chit-chat until she entered, flustered from being stuck in traffic on this rainy spring evening.

The Colorado Springs-based painter began making the rounds, and one acquaintance made slight of the fact that she was late — it’s no big deal, she told Margaret, who gave a wan smile in return. “No, I bet she’s mortified,” I said. “Japanese are supposed to be early to things. It’s in our DNA.”

I wondered if I had offended her by saying it, but the quip fit the exhibit — Kasahara’s work is a statement of her very Japaneseness, her Asian values on display in colorful two dimensions.

Besides, tardiness didn’t matter. Late or not, her opening was a hit, with a big crowd in spite of the lousy wet weather. The space is small, and her main pieces are 4 feet by 4 feet square, so there’s only room for 13 works in the gallery. But that’s enough to give you a scope of Kasahara’s ability with oil paint (and oil paint sticks) as well as her wit and clever vision, which infuses statements about race and identity in an engaging package of pop art and yes, politics, even though in her artist’s statement Kasahara says she’s not a particularly political artist: Continue reading

Velly bad old TV commercial for Jerr-O

Our friend JozJozJoz came across this TV commercial on YouTube and posted it on the excellent team blog, 8 Asians, with a poll asking what aspect of the commercial was most racist.

For me, it might be the fact that the person who posted it to YouTube titled it “Borderline Racist 1960’s Jell-O Ad” and in the description says it’s “arguably” racist. Dude, it was racist back then, it’s just that it hadn’t been pointed out to white people yet.

That’s like saying that lynchings weren’t racist because attacking African Americans was common back in the day.

These types of commercials and other cultural artifacts are important to preserve because they were racist and yet accepted by the mainstream, like this commercial for Calgon water softener (I don’t remember the Jell-O ad but I certainly do the Calgon one).

So it’s important to see these old spots, and accept them for they were, but also for what they are: a reminder that Asians have been subjected to stereotypes for a long time… and that some of them still return to haunt us, even in the 21st century.