Curator Jeff Yang Discusses New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei

This weekend, JANM opens New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. Drawing on the George & Brad Takei Collection of personal artifacts, which was recently gifted to the museum, New Frontiers explores the life and career of the pioneering actor, activist, and social media icon. The exhibition begins with Takei’s incarceration at the Rohwer and Tule Lake concentration camps as a child during World War II and moves through his career as a Japanese American actor in Hollywood, his public service appointments, his coming out as a gay man, his activism on behalf of both the Japanese American and LGBTQ communities, and his wild popularity as a social media figure. In the process, New Frontiers provides a unique window onto American history and culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Cover of George Takei’s 2012 book, Oh Myyy!: There Goes the Internet.
George & Brad Takei Collection, Japanese American National Museum.

New Frontiers is curated by noted author, journalist, and cultural critic Jeff Yang. We sat down with Yang via email to talk about the exhibition and his curatorial process.

JANM: Why George Takei, and why now?

Jeff Yang: George’s life has been extraordinary, and it has placed him at the center of some of the most critical changes in American society and culture: from the injustice of the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, through the fight for marriage equality, the struggle to overcome Hollywood stereotypes, the push to own our creative voice as Asian Americans, and the transformative rise of social media. In many of these circumstances, he wasn’t just a witness but a prime mover. These facts alone would make him an exceptional individual to explore through the lens of history. But, at 79 years old, George has never been more active, more outspoken, or more relevant. The changes we’ve seen over just the past six months have underscored the narratives in George’s life and made it clear that we still have many lessons to learn from the experiences he’s had.

George Takei, student body president, at a student council meeting, Mount Vernon Junior High School. George & Brad Takei Collection, Japanese American National Museum.

JANM: How did you come to be the curator of this exhibition?

JY: I’ve known George for many years, having written about popular culture and Asian American issues since the late 1980s. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid, and since becoming an adult, I’ve had the fortune of befriending him as well. I’d curated another large and complicated pop culture exhibit for JANM in 2013 (Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in US Comics, 1942–1986) and I suppose George, and the powers-that-be at JANM, thought my experience and POV were a good fit for this historic show.

JANM: What is your biggest goal for this exhibition?

JY: I want people to get a unique lens on the last 80 years of American history and to learn, especially now, how our rights have been won and protected through the years and why it’s critical to remember how we’ve fought for them. And also to have a great time! Visitors should expect to have an experience that we hope will make them want to come back again—with friends.

George Takei carries the Olympic torch through the streets of Los Angeles in the
run up to the 1984 Olympic Games. George & Brad Takei Collection,
Japanese American National Museum.

JANM: We understand you’ve been combing through a lot of George’s personal possessions. Which ones have you found particularly intriguing, and why?

JY: The process of curation has been exhausting because of the sheer volume of items we have available! George and his husband Brad have donated virtually everything in a lifetime of collecting to the museum—over 100 boxes of amazing stuff, and it has taken a year just to sort through everything. There were personal Takei family memorabilia from the camps; early images from Asian American—or, as they called it then, “Oriental”—Hollywood; behind-the-scenes artifacts and personal notes from Star Trek, the Broadway musical Allegiance, and George’s many other roles and works; intimate correspondence and mementos from Brad and George’s wedding and life together; and iconic merchandise and one-of-a-kind fan art given to George over the years. We are also doing our best to make the exhibition richly interactive and contextual; there’s a ton to learn from it even if you’re not a Star Trek fan.

As for my personal favorite item? I think it’s probably the pocket “casting directory” of Hollywood’s Asian/Pacific actors dating back to the 1950s. It shows some familiar faces and many more obscure ones, all presented with stereotypical one-liners that underscores how Hollywood saw them. Things have certainly changed since then—but not as much as we might have hoped!

Wedding photo of Brad and George Takei, Toyo Miyatake Studios, 2008.
George & Brad Takei Collection, Japanese American National Museum.

JANM: What gave you the idea to produce a comic book in conjunction with the exhibition?

JY: We realized early on that any catalog for an exhibition of George’s unique life would need to be highly visual, and to weave memory and imagination. The graphic novel form was ideal for that! So Excelsior: The Many Lives of George Takei is your guide through the exhibition in comic book format. We’re also putting together a graphic anthology of stories inspired by George’s life and the issues he has engaged throughout it, called (like the exhibition) New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. The latter is more like a catalog for the exhibition, but done in an eclectic comic book format. Unbound Philanthropy is generously funding that project.

JANM: Has working on New Frontiers changed any of your opinions on popular culture or APIA history?

JY: It’s made me realize how much has changed over the past 80 years—how we as APIAs have moved from the fringes to the center of popular culture, and how popular culture has moved from the fringes to the center of society. And George has been a significant part of that.

Join us on Sunday, March 12, for the public opening of New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. There will also be an Upper Level Members’ Reception on Saturday, March 11, at 7 p.m., with an opportunity to meet George, Brad, and Jeff personally. For information on becoming an upper level member, please visit this page.

Marvels & Monsters – Preview Reception Highlights

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On October 12, 2013, JANM welcomed its newest exhibition, Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986, with a Preview Reception hosted by the JANM Young Professionals Network (YPN).

The night began with a Members Gallery Talk that took place half an hour before the exhibition’s Preview Reception. The Members Gallery Talk allowed JANM members to take an exciting and intimate gallery tour with curator Jeff Yang.

The Preview Reception was free and open to the public with delicious food from Esaan Thai and free drinks throughout the night.

The evening continued with welcoming and opening remarks from the President & CEO of JANM, Dr. Greg Kimura; Chair of the JANM Board of Trustees, Mr. Gordon Yamate; YPN President, Kira Teshima; Office & Gallery Manager from NYU’s Asian Pacific American Institute, Ruby Gomez; and Marvels & Monsters curator, Jeff Yang.

The highlight of the night was Marvels & Monsters: Unbound—a showcase of short performances inspired by the new exhibition. The showcase commemorated the National Museum’s West Coast premiere of Marvels & Monsters by rethinking, subverting, deconstructing, or satirizing the eight Asian pop culture archetypes depicted in this exhibition.

Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 is on display at JANM through February 9, 2014. For more information about the exhibition, visit janm.org/marvels-monsters.

Check out these photos from the Marvels & Monsters Preview Reception!

Photo credits: Tsuneo Takasugi

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Our next exhibition opens next week. Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts chronicles the history of Japanese American Nisei soldiers from the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service who served during World War II to prove their loyalty to the nation that had disowned them.

The exhibition opens next Tuesday, November 12, but if you’re a current JANM member, join us for a special Member Preview this Sunday, November 10, 2PM – 4PM. See the exhibition before it opens to the public and hear remarks by Eric Saul, Director, Japanese American Wartime History Project. To RSVP, contact specialevents@janm.org or 213.625.0414 x2222.

 

Zap! Pow! Bam! – Photos from the October Target Free Family Saturday

A pair of "Superboys"
A pair of “Superboys” keep their identities secret with their handmade masks and capes!

 

On Saturday, October 12th, JANM presented a comics-themed Target Free Family Saturdays event that celebrated the opening of the exhibition, Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986.

The day was jam-packed with loads of entertainment and activities! From a guided Gallery Tour with curator Jeff Yang, to a Photo Booth that snapped photos of guests in their costumes, there were activities that took place all day for people of all ages and interests! Thanks to all the visitors who joined us, and a BIG “Thank you” to every staff member and volunteer for helping!

Our November Target Free Family Saturdays: Awesome Autumn is next weekend! It’s FREE all day and will take place on November 9th from 11AM – 4PM. For details: janm.org/target

Check out these photos from the October Target Free Family Saturdays event!
[Click on the photos to see full images]

 

Photos by Tsuneo Takasugi and Richard Murakami.

 

Don’t miss our comics-themed Target Free Family Saturday!

Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986

Zap! Pow! Bam! Sounds like our comics-themed Target Free Family Saturday is coming up!

Visit JANM on October 12th from 11AM – 4PM to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986, with comics-themed crafts and activities!

Superhero cape & mask making
Make your own superhero cape and mask!

 

JANM has planned an action packed day!

From assembling your own popcorn snack with Kidding Around the Kitchen, to making your own superhero costume and capturing it in a photo booth, there are activities planned for kids of all ages and interests. You’ll even be able to watch vintage Japanese anime at its earliest roots from the 1920s and 1930s!

Make sure to catch a special Marvels & Monsters Gallery Talk at 11:30am by Jeff Yang, the curator of the exhibition. You won’t want to miss Jeff Yang share special insight into the creation of Marvels & Monsters!

 

jeff wnyc
Join curator, Jeff Yang, for a special Gallery Talk on the exhibition, Marvels & Monsters!

There will be an interactive activity shortly after the Gallery Talk where you can “Build a Hero” at 12PM, or “Build a Villain” at 2:30PM.

Jeff Yang will lead the audience in collaboratively creating an ORIGINAL comic book super-character who’ll be drawn in real time by comic artists from the Secret Identities and Shattered anthologies! There will also be a book signing after each of these sessions!

Batman Caricature by Cartoon Slinger
Batman Caricature by Cartoon Slinger

Don’t leave the Museum before getting a chance to turn yourself into a comic-book character with a caricature drawn by Cartoon Slinger! (*for children only, line ends at 2:30pm)

Make sure you top off your day by teaming up with your buddies to take down villains in superhero video games brought to you by Game Truck!

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Winning selections for the “Marvels & Monsters: Unbound” Short Works Showcase

marvels-monsters-signature-500pxWe were delighted to receive so many submissions to the “Marvels & Monsters: Unbound” showcase competition, and thank all the talented and imaginative artists and authors who sent us entries.

It was a challenge to pick the ones that were ideal for the showcase, but here they are!

Congratulations to:

Robert Allison, “Overwrite”
Mark Brown, “Evil Is a Yellow Face”
Carin Chea, “The Jumper”
Joey Damiano, “The Audition”
Raymond Hui, “X Wings of Defeat”
Deanna Myers, “Cute Asian Girl”
and
Maritess Zurbano, who submitted two winning entries, whose titles are yet to be determined!

Join JANM’s Young Professionals Network on October 10 for the Showcase, featuring staged readings of all eight winning entries and a Q&A with the winners, moderated by MARVELS & MONSTERS curator Jeff Yang—and get a sneak preview of the MARVELS & MONSTERS exhibition itself.

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Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986
October 12, 2013 – February 9, 2014
Through a selection of images from comic books representing four turbulent decades, Marvels & Monsters illustrates how evolving racial and cultural archetypes defined America’s perceptions of Asians.

Marvels & Monsters Preview Reception
Thursday, October 10, 2013
6 PM – 9:30 PM

Join us for the Showcase, a special preview of the exhibition, and reception to celebrate the opening of the Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 exhibition. Hosted by the JANM Young Professionals Network. To RSVP, contact specialevents@janm.org or 213.625.0414, ext. 2222.

For more information about the exhibition, visit: janm.org/marvels-monsters.

MEMBERS GALLERY TALK – Marvels & Monsters Opening Night 10/10/13

Jeff Yang at WNYC

Special insight into the creation of Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942 – 1986 will be shared by exhibition curator Jeff Yang during the Members Gallery Talk right before the Preview Reception on Thursday, October 10.

Jeff Yang, well known for his “Tao Jones” column in the Wall Street Journal, is the former “Asian Pop” columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and publisher of A. Magazine. He began reading and collecting comics at the age of eight, and hasn’t allowed distractions like adulthood, marriage, and fatherhood to deter him since.  He’s even made comics a part of his professional life with the seminal graphic novel collection Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology and its follow-up Secret Identities: Volume 2 Shattered.

Join us for this unforgettable Members Gallery Talk.

Members Gallery Talk
Thursday, October 10th • 5:30 PM
JANM Members Only
Intimate gallery tour with curator Jeff Yang.

Preview Reception
Thursday, October 10th • 6PM – 9:30PM
FREE & open to the public!
Join us for a special preview of Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942 – 1986. Hosted by the JANM Young Professionals Network.

RSVP by October 9 to specialevents@janm.org or 213.625.0414 x 2222.

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If you’re not a current JANM member, join/renew now! In addition to special opportunities like this, members also receive free admission and discounts at our award-winning Museum Store and on workshops and tours. Your support enables us to continue to present exhibitions, public programs, educational workshops and tours, and much more!

CALL FOR ENTRIES: “Marvels & Monsters: Unbound” monologue/short scene showcase—DEADLINE: September 15

ALIENS, KAMIKAZES, AND GURUS—OH MY!

marvels-monsters-signature-500px

Write an original monologue or short performance piece for a chance to be included in JANM’s October 10 “MARVELS & MONSTERS” SHOWCASE!

Throughout our nation’s history, Asians have been depicted as a set of distorted archetypes—the eternal foreigner, the sexless nerd, the brutal thug, the mystical wise man, the suicidal fanatic, the perpetual victim, the exotic seductress, and the conniving mastermind.

Now we’re looking for you to help shatter those images—with short original works of your own.

To commemorate the Japanese American National Museum’s West Coast premiere of MARVELS & MONSTERS: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986, we’re looking for you to submit monologues or short performance works that rethink, subvert, deconstruct, or satirize the eight Asian pop-culture archetypes depicted in this exhibition, which draws from science fiction author William F. Wu’s extensive collection of comic books featuring Asian and Asian American characters—widely considered to be the largest in the world.

The archetypes are:

    THE ALIEN: The perpetual foreigner; the enigmatic, inscrutable, unassimilable outsider in our midst. His customs are peculiar, his beliefs heathen, his agenda secret; never fully understood, and so never fully trusted, he is best regarded from a distance with a mix of curiosity, revulsion and fear.
    THE BRAIN: The hyperintelligent mind without a body; sexless, heartless, friendless, a self-hating prodigy more comfortable interacting with machines than people. The math nerd and mad scientist, the otaku and outcast: He may rule the world, but will he ever get the girl?
    THE BRUTE: The gangster, the thug, the minion, the martial arts master—the Brute may be a staggering physical specimen, but he is a nameless and voiceless one; his is not to wonder why—his is merely to do, and more often than not, die, without complaint or commemoration. Stoic in his suffering, silent in his rage, he is infinitely interchangeable, eternally anonymous, limited in language to gestures of deference and the vocabulary of violence.
    THE GURU: The mystical wise one, whose inscrutable ways disguise the ancient, awesome truths he holds within his soul. Aged and wizened, he speaks in vague riddles and impenetrable allegories, appearing at first glance to be mad, senescent, or both. Yet to the right individual, the apprentice who is destined to inherit the Guru’s secrets, he is a gatekeeper to limitless power.
    THE KAMIKAZE: Human missiles screaming a lingering cry of “Banzai!!!!” as they plummet toward enemy forces; insurgents wired with explosives, eager to martyr themselves to earn vengeance and a reward in Heaven; nameless soldiers scrambling over the corpses of their fellows only to be mowed down in turn. The Kamikaze has many faces, but all are mindlessly self-sacrificing, zealously loyal, feverishly patriotic, and utterly dismissive of the value of human life.
    THE LOTUS BLOSSOM: The long-suffering wife, the left-behind lover; the hostage, the victim, the betrayed and forgotten. The Lotus Blossom is patient in her doomed love and passive to her predestined fate—which is to be abused, abased, exploited, and ultimately destroyed by or sacrificed for the man she loves and serves.
    THE TEMPTRESS: The exotic seductress, who uses her feminine wiles and sexual prowess to enthrall and ultimately, betray—lush of body, false of heart, her mocking laughter and the sharp rake of her clawed fingers may well be the last thing you’ll ever experience.
    THE MANIPULATOR: The evil controller, the shadowy mastermind, the megalomaniacal puppeteer seeking conquest through nefarious intrigue; brilliant, yes, but twisted by an insatiable lust for wealth, power, and control—hoping, perhaps, that world domination might fill the dark and hollow void of his soul.

Eight winning pieces will be selected by a jury that includes exhibition curator Jeff Yang; winning authors will receive widespread public acclaim and admiration, a $100 honorarium, and the opportunity to present their pieces as staged readings at JANM’s “Marvels & Monsters: Unbound” Short Works Showcase on October 10, 2013.

Unleash your creative potential. Submit your entries today!

Entries must be emailed to mm@janm.org as file attachments (.DOC, .TXT, or .RTF filetypes accepted; email above if alternate filetype is preferred). You will receive an emailed confirmation of your submission.

RULES:

1. Entries must be received by no later than 5PM PT on September 15, 2013 to be considered. Winners will be notified by 5PM PT on September 18.

2. The competition is open to all individuals, amateur or professional.

3. Entries should be no more than five minutes long in total.

4. All types and genres of work that can be performed live are eligible, including musical and solo performance pieces. Any instruments, props, or media utilized in a presentation must be provided by and are the sole responsibility of the submitter.

5. Works will be judged on their originality and quality, as well as their complementarity with other selected works and their relevance to the ideas and images depicted in the exhibition.

6. Winning submitters will be responsible for casting, staging, and directing their own presentations. JANM will provide space for one dress rehearsal before the showcase.

7. Authors retain all rights to their submissions. However, by submitting, authors agree to present their work at JANM on October 10, and to allow presentations to be taped for possible inclusion in the Marvels & Monsters exhibition and in documentary and video materials related to the exhibition.

SAVE THE DATE! Marvels & Monsters opens October 12!

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Yellow Claw #1 (Atlas Comics, 1956) Credit: Yellow Claw #1 (October 1956), Marjean Magazine Corp. [Atlas].
With Comic-Con long over and summer superhero movie season coming to an end, are you looking for another pop culture fix? If so, search no more—Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 opens October 12, 2013 at JANM!

Through a selection of images from comic books representing four turbulent decades, Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 assembles a team of xenophobic archetypes to illustrate the roots of Asian misrepresentation in pop culture. Curated by Jeff Yang, Marvels & Monsters places these genre-spanning archetypes—the Guru, the Brain, the Temptress, the Manipulator, the Alien, the Kamikaze, the Brute, and the Lotus Blossom—into a historical framework and then follows up with a discourse between current Asian American creators.

View the most striking examples of these archetypes alongside contemporary Asian American graphic novels and interactive installations through February 9, 2014. This exhibition is a collaboration between the A/P/A Institute at NYU and the NYU Fales Library & Special Collections.

For more information about the exhibition, visit: janm.org/marvels-monsters

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Don’t miss out on two FREE events to mark the opening of Marvels & Monsters!

Preview Reception
Thursday, October 10th • 6PM – 9:30PM
FREE & open to the public!
Join us for a special preview of Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics with curator Jeff Yang. Hosted by the JANM Young Professionals Network.

Target FREE Family Saturdays: Zap! Pow! Bam!
Saturday, October 12th • 11AM – 4PM
Free all day!
Celebrate the opening of Marvels & Monsters at our comics-themed Target Day. Check janm.org/target for the schedule.

A Conversation with Lela Lee
Saturday, October 19th • 2PM
Lela Lee, author and artist of the comic book series Angry Little Girls will discuss her comics and their impact on Asian Americans and beyond. There will be an exclusive, members-only Meet & Greet with Lela at 1PM—stay tuned for details!