On March 16, 2021, six women of Asian descent, among eight victims overall, were killed during multiple shootings in Atlanta and adjacent Cherokee county. The confessed perpetrator is a 21-year-old self-proclaimed incel White male. The Cherokee County Sheriff and the communications director handling the case initially made no mention of a racial motive or the possibility that the shooting could be a hate crime. The killings, and this failure to see any link between misogyny and racism, sparked nationwide outrage from activists, writers, and advocates against anti-Asian hatred. Many Asian Americans were reminded of their own trauma, and of the ongoing history of prejudice and discrimination that they face in the United States.
On view in New York during this incredibly difficult time were two exhibitions in which artists and curators presented work that subtly engages identity, history, and the trauma of being Asian Americans in the US: O, at FiveMyles in Brooklyn; and Heirlooms, at Loong Mah Gallery in Chinatown. Curator Marine Cornuet presented Tammy Nguyen and Thad Higa in O, whereas Olivia Shao gathered heirlooms from numerous Asian American artists and arts workers for Heirlooms. As an Asian American curator, I analyze these shows to take note of the artists’ and curators’ approaches to grappling—as individuals, and for the community—with atrocities through their work.