If the show Urban Tribes is meant to "display the diversity of the city on New York" from a fetish dealing outsider's perspective it succeeds:
At best the photograph, Picnic, Central Park (2009) is "dark tourism” in the art space. Peddling in the most low brow, low concept and lazy cultural appropriation that I have seen in a decade. Here is my letter to the curator who is fighting to have the work put back in her show in Brooklyn in 2019. To the NYFA’s credit they removed the image when made aware of it”s offensiveness.
Hello Luchia Lee,
If the photograph, Picnic, Central Park (2009), by the artist, Ching-Yao Chen, (part of I love New York) had been made by a White artist, I believe you & very likely the artist might have been reminded of similar things that it made me think of.
(Auburn University Alabama 2001 from Google)
The first two things that flickered to mind for me were; 1. blackface fraternity party pictures that circulate on Facebook today & 2. old black and white films where white actors squinted their eyes and wore fake oversized front teeth. Those are proper comparisons to this piece by Chen. Both the above and below are obvious in their offense in a contemporary (perhaps any) context whether or not one is Black, Asian, from the US or not.
Being a person of color or feeling himself marginalized either in a racial, cultural or international manner doesn't excuse the fact that Picnic is offensive. Because he's created a caricature of not HIS OWN situation and specifically THEIR suffering.
I read that you believe there was no intended malice on the part of Chen. In creating this work. But even if not the intention, the piece Picnic checks ALL the boxes of exclusion, assumption, presumption, fetishization and marginalization that you, organizations like yours and the NYFA are against. No re-writing or re-contextualization of the piece will erase this.
I am aware that the venerated Cindy Sherman did create at least one large format "Blackface" Self Portrait which I have seen. Not a sensitive decision possibly but she did it. But she has, to my knowledge, never shown it in public (it is owned by a private collector in NY). I'm not of the mind that Chen should not have made this work or explored that creative impulse. I do believe that bringing this work into the public sphere legitimises the modes and methods of parody, racism and stereotyping he perhaps unknowingly employed. I take issue with future inclusion of it in the show Urban Tribes. I hope that it will not be rehung in that or any public arena unless as a cautionary tale of what diversity doesn't look like.
Further, a larger than life projection of Picnic, Central Park in a public arena is perhaps more Injurious that hanging it in a private gallery (if anyone is asking/wondering). I'm hoping that will not happen either.
Diversity implies inclusion. Permission requires asking. Proximity leads to understanding.
If you read all or any of this letter I appreciate that and can and will make myself available to speak with you or on any future art/community discussions about these topics.
Thank you for your time.