Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gorilla wrenches

I painted pedestals last night in anticipation of installing my work today at the art fair. I had no idea how bad things were going to get. Cobi and arrived early (as instructed very firmly) to register at the convention center at 10am. We were told we were too early and walked around a little, and then sat down to wait. When a woman came up to us to ask who were were, I introduced myself and she said, "We have a problem." She sat down to tell me that because our booth was directly next to the booth of a Korean gallery and a hanji demo booth, that I would not be allowed to exhibit. Apparently, she felt that my being Korean American and working with hanji would conflict with this gallery that exhibits hanji work and with female Korean artists who use hanji (throughout the day, it was emphasized to me that they were women). She asked the very tired, jet-lagged Korean person in charge of the group how they would feel about me being next to them and they supposedly felt very uncomfortable and unhappy. Because they paid 10K for their booth, it then was important to make me feel very uncomfortable and unhappy by removing me from the fair entirely. The organizer said she felt awful and would make it up to me (I can't remember if she actually said she was sorry), but refused to give me her contact information, instead saying I should get it from someone else to send her images of my work.

I was shocked. Cobi was, too. I drove us to the art store and hardware store and back home, and went to the office, where the staff was very upset. They had gotten the news but were told that my work might be exhibited in a different booth by the organizer's gallery, but I had to email my images to ensure that my work was not too close to the Korean artists' work. I had already bought packing materials, packed some work, and removed and mounted all the wall pieces. All I could do was wait in limbo to hear word. When I heard nothing for hours and was sick to my stomach all day, I decided to go back to the convention center to find the organizer and speak to her. A staff member accompanied me and when we arrived, we were told the organizer was not available but instead we could speak to her brother, who was producing the event. Though the staffer insisted over and over that he look me in the eye and speak to me directly, he kept turning and addressing her. The arguments ranged from, "We'd never have two glass blowers" to "It would be like hosting two galleries that both represented Robert Rauschenberg" to "These women paid their own way to fly here all the way from Korea" to "Well, you only found out three days ago so what's the big deal." He begrudgingly said, "I can't do anything about this; I'm sorry about that," several minutes after the staffer told him it would be a great start if he could just say, "I'm sorry." He said they weren't going to do anything for me at all beyond excluding me.

I was sickened by the unbelievable layers of discrimination leveled against me. The outright racism, the sexism, the You're Not From Far Enoughism, the media-ism, the income bracket-ism. I was disgusted by how clear they made it that they did not value me as an artist or a person nor did they respect my work or time. I lost days of work on a manuscript for a book that is on deadline. The ironic thing is that all I have been doing for the past five years is working to help artists like these by bringing more attention and awareness to hanji and its myriad manifestations. That they see my body and my work as a threat (of course, when I saw their booths, it was confirmed that their work is completely different from mine) amazes me. When I tried to explain to my family what had happened and I said to my father that I was not allowed in because I was Korean, he said, "But you're NOT Korean." It made me laugh, because it's true. I'm too Korean, yet I'm not Korean enough. In the end, what it boils down to is that I am not RICH enough. If I had plunked down 10K, I'm sure there would be no object. [Or if I was a man, or if I was white, or if my name did not sound so Asian.]

What else happened today? Laundry, cleaning my room, crying, calling Marci while crying, talking to almost all of the residents here (who have been incredibly supportive) and the staff (ditto), beer, pizza, and unpacking and restoring my studio. It looks beautiful.

4 comments:

  1. aimee - your pronouncement that 'your not rich enough' (meaning in the $$$ sense) sounds on the money - I'm also sick to death of the layers of discrimination and outright bull&*% that accompanies so much of the arts world - from fairs to galleries to exhibitions...... *rolls eyes* that's really unprofessional and appalling treatment --- I hope you can lay it aside and get on with the important things - making great art. hang in there....

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  2. Thanks so much, Ronnie! I need all the support and sympathetic eye rolling that I can get. I am still moving through waves of anger and all that icky stuff. Getting back to the important things means getting back to my hanji book! I wish it could be just the art making though I have to admit that now, looking at all the work again, I see I have made lots of it, and lots of it that I am proud of.

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  3. Oh, what a load of $#&%! Much eye-rolling, much sympathy here. You are spot on about the money, definitely. I wonder why it never occurs to those affected with exclusivism - I'm thinking book arts world here - that having several artists working with hanji in different ways actually serves to promote it further, makes it even more appealing, ADDS to awareness and takes everyone further?
    Instead, the 'cornering the market' mentality prevails. It's all about the money and about the money only.
    Stay proud of your work!

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  4. oh my god. this is such crap, aimee. i am glad you wrote the truth here. the isms abound in this pathetic example of ineptitude. do something good for aimee and don't let them influence you (any more) in any way. it all makes me want to swear. a lot.

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