Extinguishing tokenism and exploring individuality on stage
Last week, Asian Glow transformed the ONCE Ballroom in Somerville from a run-of-the-mill performing arts venue to a site of a unique celebration—of art, of heritage, and most of all, of individuality. A “performance series for Asian American creative artists in Boston,” the events “seek to raise visibility for Asian Americans, extinguish tokenism, and explore individual stories involving the twin myths of the ‘model minority’ and ‘perpetual foreigner.’”
The first artist I encountered that evening was Jason Lin. Lin, a multidisciplinary artist known for their art books and zines, was set up on the right side of a long table in the ballroom lobby. Prints and collages strewn haphazardly in front of them, Lin fluttered in and out of conversation with curious crowd members who walked up to the table, searching through the mess for a zine that caught their attention—as far as I observed, it never took long for this to happen. To Lin’s left was Celene Chen, displaying her work for Underwater Ventriloquist, an art and poetry project. Chen’s table was representative of her work as an artist overall—lining the far side stood several beautiful abstract watercolors. In front of the paintings lay stickers, prints, comics, and even the occasional work of calligraphy.
The installment continued with stand-up performances by comedians Anjan Biswas and Nora Panahi. Biswas, a comedian whose work has appeared on Comedy Central Asia among other places, commanded the stage with the presence of a veteran, which isn’t surprising considering that his profession has taken him around the world and back. The same could be said for Panahi as well. Confidence is key in standup, and Panahi’s killer jokes and self-deprecation made it clear that this was a circuit she had been through many times before.
Music for the evening came from hip-hop artists LuDow and Rex Mac. LuDow, a Cambridge-based rapper whose instrumentals and rhymes are laced with soul and sentiment, highlighted his set with the performance of his latest single, “Complicated.” Rex Mac, a Boston emcee who was recently nominated for the Boston Music Award for 617Sessions Artist of the Year, performed songs from his 2017 album Abloom. The two emcees shared the stage in a masterful display of live performance that energized the crowd.
Perhaps the most inspiring performance of the evening, however, was that by the Genki Spark, a self-described “multi-generational, pan-Asian women’s arts and advocacy organization that uses Japanese taiko drumming, personal stories, and creativity to build community, develop leadership, and advocate respect for all.” The group’s performance was inspirational in more ways than one—not only did its infectious rhythms bring the crowd to its feet, but the act of the performance itself spoke to female empowerment in a culture that has historically shied away from equality between the sexes.
A celebration of individuality first and foremost, the installment was undoubtedly a success, in the sense that the audience present was captivated by the art and the artist, as opposed to their ancestral identity. Readers interested in seeing more of Asian Glow should keep their eyes and ears out for announcements regarding the succeeding installments, which are set to take place this fall.