Asian Art Museum’s ‘Seeing Gender’ Exhibit Considers Past and Present – and More

By JL Odom

Gender is many things – complex, multifaceted, culturally significant, always relevant. And it’s a concept that four curators from the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco decided to tackle in the form of an exhibition.

According to Megan Merritt, curator of the Asian Art Museum, “We wanted something that was topical, that had bite, and that we really wanted to engage with and look at our collection through.”

Until September 5, visitors to the museum can admire “Seeing Gender”, a collection of 17 pieces arranged side by side in the Tateuchi gallery. The exhibition is unique in its focus on the genre to see, consider and appreciate Asian art – to see beyond the binary through a range of historical and contemporary pieces, spanning cultures, regions of Asia and periods. The oldest artwork dates back to 840, with the most recent piece created in 2014.

Merritt shares that working with fellow curators Maya Hara, Shinhwa Koo and Joanna Lee was a great opportunity to come together and decide on a particular exhibition theme. As she explains, previous exhibitions at the Museum of Asian Art had explicitly focused on the “body,” such as the “Divine Bodies” exhibition which examined how divinity was represented through postures, clothing, and dynasty. other bodily aspects. But positioning “gender” at the center of attention is a first for the museum.

Merritt comments, “In this exhibition, we’re using gender as a lens through which to look at our collection, and that’s never been done before. So that was really something we wanted to address and examine, particularly being in the Bay area.”

When exploring exhibition ideas, the location of the Asian Art Museum came to mind. Merritt explains, “We are in the heart of the Tenderloin and Civic Center neighborhoods, which have historically been symbolic places of resistance among LGBTQ+ communities. So we felt the need to bring gender to the fore, because gender and sexuality are at the heart of conversations that our society has today.”

She adds: “Over the past few months, the news cycle has brought to light a lot of troubling legislation regarding young trans and gay people. But beyond that, I think we’re seeing some really positive steps in the right direction. with Bay to Breakers.”

For the first time in its long history, San Francisco’s iconic Bay to Breakers offered rewards to the top non-binary runners in this year’s race. In years past, it has only recognized winners in the “women’s” and “men’s” categories. Locally, inclusivity efforts like this – for the many people whose gender identity does not conform to the binary – are becoming more prevalent. The curators took these aspects into account when creating “Seeing Gender”.

Merritt explains, “I think, especially in the Bay Area, people are starting to feel comfortable sharing their favorite pronouns, dressing in a way that’s more comfortable and true to their preferred identities. So that was something that we really wanted to celebrate and kind of shine the light on.”

To achieve these goals, Merritt et al. incorporated the views of ‘interpretation partners’ and interns from the Museum of Asian Art to complement the artwork on display. The partnership with local scholars, writers and artists guided the development of the exhibition.

According to Merritt, “They focus on gender in their academic life but also in their artistic life, so they were invaluable to our creative process. They reviewed all of our texts that we wrote; they contributed their own first-person panels at the exhibition.”

Each member of this advisory board has written something that has touched them, for example about a work of art in the gallery or a particular concept.

Of their contributions, Merritt shares, “It really gave a nice nuance to the gallery and [was] something the curators couldn’t provide. We’re so used to providing all the historical context of the art, and we could talk about the artwork, but we really couldn’t add that intimate dimension, and they brought it to the galleries. And I think that was such a beautiful element.”

Merritt and the other curators also worked with the museum’s Art Speak interns, from various local San Francisco public high schools, to create a video for the exhibit. For the video, they were asked to answer several gender-related questions, such as how they view gender in their daily lives, how they change their gender code depending on their location and social background – for example, in high school and among peers. about home with their families – and how gender “plays” for them.

Said Merritt of the interns’ participation, “It was so cool to work with Gen Z and hear how they think about gender because it’s so different from how many of us, and a lot of our visitors older, were able to grow up with [gender] and can think about it in their life. Adding these different voices – having a diverse didactic approach, which is a bit experimental for the museum – was a really fun way to incorporate Asian American voices and also voices from our community.”

These thoughtful components of the exhibition, as well as the pieces themselves, offer visitors the opportunity to reflect on gender – past, present and future, binary and beyond.

“Seeing Gender” runs through September 5 at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Friday to Monday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays. For more information and tickets, $10 to $25, visit

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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