Center for Asian American Studies
Center for Asian American Studies

Lectures in Art and Diaspora: Asian in America - Karin Higa & Wangechi Mutu

Tue, October 27, 2009 | Blanton Auditorium

5:00 PM - 7:00 PM

J.T. Sata, Untitlted (Portrait), 1928
J.T. Sata, Untitlted (Portrait), 1928

"Modernism at the Margins"

A lecture presented by Karin Higa, Senior Curator of Art at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and Wangechi Mutu, visual artist and illustrator.

Open to the public. Kindly RSVP to Kenyatta Y. Dawson at

Karin Higa
At the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, Karin Higa curated a number of exhibitions, including her most recent project “Living Flowers: Ikebana and Contemporary Art” (2008). In 2006, she co-curated the national traveling exhibition, “One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now” (2006-2008), for the Asia Society Museum in New York. Her writings include essays on Ruth Asawa (de Young Museum, 2006), Andrew Freeman (RAM/Center for Land Use Interpretation, 2006), Sam Durant (Wrong Gallery, 2004) and Lincoln Tobier (Les Labortoires d’Aubervilliers, 2003) and contributions to the books Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (Stanford University Press, 2008), Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900-1970 (University of California Press, 2008), and Only Skin Deep (Abrams, 2003). She has taught at Mills College, UC Irvine, and Otis College of Art and Design, and has lectured extensively on Asian American and contemporary art. She serves on the editorial board of Art Journal, the Visiting Committee of the Harvard Art Museum, and the board of directors of Craft in America. She is currently on hiatus from curatorial projects to write a dissertation on arts and culture in Little Tokyo between World War I and II at the University of Southern California.

Wangechi Mutu
African artist Wangechi Mutu created a sensation in galleries on both coasts of the United States with her compelling and disturbing collages in the first years of the twenty-first century. Mutu's works were portraits, in a way; she often began with a picture of a woman cut out from a magazine or coffee table book. But she distorted the image by cutting it into pieces, rearranging it, and adding other materials until the woman depicted looked freakish or surreal. The figures Mutu created seemed to tell a multitude of stories--of traditional African womanhood distorted by the influences of Western ideals of beauty, of exploitation and resistance, of human resilience in the face of dehumanizing forces. Los Angeles Times writer David Pagel called Mutu's solo exhibition debut in that city "among the best in recent memory."

Mutu was born in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, and much of her work has involved Kenyan or African themes to some degree. Her upbringing was a modern and urban one, and she was puzzled by the Western tendency to think of Africa in terms of its rural, traditional cultures. "There's this constant movement toward historicizing Africa, turning it into this archaic place," Mutu explained in an interview on the Africana Web site. "Being that I was raised there, and that I came from the city, it was really weird for me. I was like, 'It's actually a really modern place like everywhere else. It happened and is happening right now.'"

Sponsored by: Center for Asian American Studies, Department of Art + Art History: Lectures in the Black Diaspora, The Institute for Historical Studies, and the Blanton Museum of Art

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