Jerome Lu's Hyperactive Shaolin Rabbit

I say Labbit, you say Rabbit

I have received a couple of inquiries as to the origin of the title for the Year of the Labbit show, so I thought perhaps an explanation was in order. I was not trying to confuse, confound, or humiliate anyone for not being able to pronounce Ls and Rs (like my mother planned to when she wanted to name me Laura so neither my Chinese nor Japanese grandparents would be able to say my name correctly –Lola, Rora,..)

Jerome Lu's Hyperactive Shaolin Rabbit
Angry Asian labbit! (Jerome Lu's Hyperactive Shaolin Rabbit)

 

The blank toy that was used for the show was an already existing product created by Kid Robot and the artist Frank Kozik. I wondered about the name since the toy had absolutely no reflection of any Asian influences. I assumed it was a combination of the Latin based word for “rabbit” which in French at least is “lapin” and  “rabbit”, and left it at that. There were never any indications that this was aimed at an Asian audience, it never came with Asian themed accessories, and wasn’t questioned until I decided to use it for the blank canvas for this show, at this Museum, and called the show the Year of the Labbit.

I contacted the artist to ask him how the Labbit got its name. Frank told me that his first version of this toy was a mean-looking rabbit with a cigarette in its mouth and a scar on its forehead. I had seen this in his artwork as a “Smorkin’ Labbit”, and indeed several toy versions were made with variations of rabbits and other inanimate objects (like watermelons, hamburgers, etc. all smoking cigarettes.) Frank said that he sent his Smokin’ Rabbit design to Asia for final production. When he received his first shipment of packaged product, someone in Asia had changed everything to Smorkin’ Labbit! Rather than scrap the whole project and return everything for a re-do, he decided to let serendipity to play into his product and kept the name as is.

The version of Kozik’s toy we are using is called the Happy Labbit and is a little more family friendly and cute. But basically I chose it because its shape offered the most surface area for artists to paint on.

Maria Kwong

Maria Kwong is the Director of Retail Enterprises at the Japanese American National Museum.

One thought to “I say Labbit, you say Rabbit”

  1. Thanks to the JANM group of people. Always helpful and always put on a great show. Lucky enough to get my hands on the “Labbit Zilla” but so many others were amazing!

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