Charged, Four Asian American Women Artists At AHL Foundation In Harlem

June 27, 2023

In Charged, four Asian American women artists entice the viewer with intricately refined craftsmanship charged with sociopolitical and cross-cultural significance.

Commenting on mass shootings rooted in US gun culture, living the Korean diaspora experience, the racist legacy of colonialism, and racial injustice against Asians, among other issues, the exhibition demonstrates disciplined art practice through a limited color palette of predominantly red and white. The artists share an affinity for simulacra, extending critical discussion absent the ready-made objects that are their central subjects: guns cast in porcelain, food bowls molded of hanji paper, a replica of a rice bag, and seemingly ordinary wallpaper.

These ghostly objects and trompe l’oeil may seduce viewers with their beauty, but upon further examination lead to deeper engagement. The works in this exhibition also have in common references to Asian cultural identity, whether through the artist’s choice of medium or the content expressed, as each artist nods to her native traditions and diasporic life sharing their deep desire to investigate their cultural identities through the experiences of the personal, communal, and historical.

During the opening reception, Sammy Seung-min Lee will invite participants to collaborate with her in creating table settings of traditional Korean tableware.

Keiko Fukazawa, a Japanese American ceramicist living in California, presents four sculptures from Peacemaker (2017– ), her ongoing series addressing US gun culture and mass shootings. White porcelain replicas of handguns and rifles used in mass shootings over the past twenty years are presented atop silk-covered or inside silk-lined Chinese calligraphy boxes. The state flowers where the shootings occurred adorn the guns, each flower representing a victim.

Presented as vessels of precious objects—white is the color of death and mourning in Japan, as it is in most East Asia cultures—the boxes are symbolic coffins. Three plates from the series Perception Plate (2022) will also be shown. Fukazawa coopted the Ishihara color vision test, but instead of numerals, the words ‘Abortion’, ‘Jan. 6’, and ‘Truth’ appear amid colored dots on decorative Chinese plates. Will the viewer perceive the reality before her eyes, or will she be blind to the facts?

Sammy Seung-min Lee, a Korean American artist living in Colorado, presents A Very Proper Table Setting, a sculptural wall relief installation of a series of table settings cast in hanji (Korean mulberry paper). While traveling through the US over the past several years, Lee has invited strangers to set a table with her in galleries, museums, and parking lots. Participants were asked to create table settings for someone special using traditional Korean bowls, dishes, and utensils. Lee deployed this cross-cultural project as a vehicle to connect the artist with participants out of a desire for reconciliation. The sociability of the project transforms into formal elegance, the paper casting of each participant’s table giving shape to narratives and memories of family, identity, gender, power structures, and alternative traditions.

Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza, a Filipino American living in California, presents three works that reflect on the consequences of colonial mentality and Mendoza’s resistance to it. Shown together in an alcove space of the AHL Foundation’s gallery, a dialogue is created among the works. In If These Walls Could Talk (2020, reprinted 2023), a wallpaper corner vignette in which racist depictions of Filipinos are the background of American colonization is bordered by outsized classical crown molding and baseboard, while decorative flourishes from the US dollar bill intermingle with nineteenth-century political cartoons depicting American racist attitudes toward the Philippines during US imperialist expansion. Portrait of a Man (2022), a naturalistically rendered pencil drawing of a man’s head, references an ethnographic photograph of a Filipino man taken by Dean C. Worcester (1908-1910, housed in Chicago’s Field Museum).

Mendoza’s portrait extracts the man’s head from its original context in an attempt to restore the subject’s dignity and humanity lost at the hands of a colonial power that viewed indigenous Filipinos as objects of scientific study. Baton Rice (2018) is a trompe l’oeil paper sculpture inspired by the Botan Rice brand that was the go-to rice for many Asian immigrants in California in the 1970’s. A lotus flower replaces the company’s original rose motif, while the company’s name is changed to ‘Baton’, suggesting Bataan (as in the Bataan Death March) or a baton passed in a relay.

Joo Woo, a Korean American artist living in Florida, presents Do Not Draw a Red Star (2022), a collection of painted paper cutouts reflecting a formative memory from her childhood in South Korea that also serves as a metaphor of her adulthood as an immigrant in the US. Woo integrates fragmented shapes and texts from the two cultures to traverse time and place. The cutouts refer to folkloric imagery from Woo’s ancestry, family stories tied to the division of her homeland, and protests denouncing racism.

The title, along with red as the dominant color, originates from Woo’s childhood recollection of being forbidden to draw a red star in art class in deference to the 1980’s anti-communist education in South Korea under the military dictatorship. Letters in Korean and English are included, and the overlapping of these letters and images obscures reading, much as does Fukazawa’s Perception Plate.

Artist Biographies

Keiko Fukazawa

Keiko Fukazawa, born in Japan, was educated at the Musashino Art University in Tokyo. She also studied at Otis college of Art and Design in Los Angeles, where she taught ceramics for four years. Fukazawa lives in Pasadena, California, where she maintains her studio, and where, until her recent retirement, she taught as Associate Professor and Head of the Ceramics Department at Pasadena City College.

As an apprentice at a ceramic studio in Shigaraki, Fukazawa rejected rigidly gendered practices, so drawn to the California Clay Movement, she came to California in 1983. Fukazawa embraces cultural hybridity: her recent residency in Jingdezhen, China (“the Porcelain capital of the world”) has expanded her desire to push social and cultural boundaries further in her conceptual art.

Fukazawa’s recent solo shows include Craft Contemporary, Los Angeles, and Gerald Peters Contemporary, Santa Fe, while group shows include California State University, Los Angeles, and the University of South Florida, Tampa. Exhibitions of Fukazawa’s work have appeared at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USC Fisher Museum of Art in Los Angeles, American Craft Museum in New York, and Arlington Museum of Art in Texas.

In 2015, Fukazawa received an Artist in Residency Grant from the Asian Cultural Council, New York City, and in 2016, a C.O.L.A. Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the City of Los Angeles. In 2017, she was a finalist for a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, and in 2019, she was a finalist for a Contemporary Art Fellowship Award in Los Angeles. Fukazawa’s work appears in the books, Loaded: Guns in Contemporary Art by Suzanne Ramljak; Sex Pot: Eroticism in Ceramics by Paul Mathieu; and Contemporary Ceramics by Susan Peterson. Ceramic Arts and Perception, art ltd., American Ceramics, Los Angeles Times, and Huffpost have also featured her work.

Sammy Lee

Sammy Lee, based in Denver, Colorado, was born and raised in Seoul, and moved to Southern California at sixteen. She studied fine art and media art at UCLA, and architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Among Lee’s many accomplishments is a performative collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma during the Bach project tour in 2018. Lee is recently a resident artist at Redline, serves as Ambassador for Asian Art at the Denver Art Museum, was  a Fulbright Scholar, and operates a contemporary art project and residency space called Collective SML | k in Santa Fe Art District, Denver.

​Lee’s work has been exhibited internationally and can be found in collections at the Getty Research Institute, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, Spencer Museum of Art, Denver Art

Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza

Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza, born in Manila and living in Los Angeles, earned an MFA at Claremont Graduate University in 1991. She is a multidisciplinary artist who explores personal narratives amid historical contexts. Mendoza views her art as a process of conservatorship and resistance. Working primarily in drawing, sculpture, and installation, she incorporates pre-existing images and objects into her visual language.

Recent solo exhibitions include From Typhoon, Seattle (2021); Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana (2020); and COOP, Seoul (2019). Mendoza has contributed to group exhibitions at Dairy Art Center, Boulder, Colorado (2022); Art Center DTLA, Los Angeles (2020); Baik Art (2018); and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles (2010).

Mendoza is a recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts (2019), C.O.L.A. Individual Artist (2012), and an Art Matters Fellowship (1995).

She was selected for the Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency in Granville, NY (2023). Other residencies include Art Space Yosuga, Kyoto, Japan (2018); Joshua Tree Highlands Residency (2017); and Yaddo Artist Residency (2003).

Since 2001, Mendoza has served as Associate Professor and Drawing Coordinator for the Visual Arts and Media Studies Division at Pasadena City College.

Joo Yeon Woo

Joo Yeon Woo was born in Daegu, South Korea, and came to the United States in 2003. She uses her immigrant experience to explore fluidity of identity, sense of place and placeless-ness, boundaries, and multicultural diaspora through drawing, painting, photography, and installation. Her ongoing project, begun in 2017, Gyopo Portraits (‘Gyopo’ is a Korean term for Koreans who live overseas) fuses formal drawing with the embossing techniques to render figures nearly invisible. Maximizing notions of void and space, her refined simplicity harks back to traditional Korean aesthetics. Woo’s cross-cultural immigrant experience is further explored in her newest sumi (black ink) works on paper, Sound Words (2018-ongoing), in which Woo illustrates her mindscape by translating subjective feelings and onomatopoetic words.

Woo has exhibited at A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn; Academy of Fine Arts, Sarajevo; Sejong Museum of Art, Seoul; Vargas Museum, University of the Philippines, Quezon; Mahmoud Darwish Museum, Palestine; the Center for Global Justice, Mexico; and University of the Andes, Bogotá, Colombia. She has participated in residencies at VCCA, Amherst, Virginia; Red Gate Residency, Beijing; and Contemporary Yunnan, China. She received an AHL Contemporary Art Award, and a Korean National Art Festival Award at the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

Woo received a BFA from Kyungpook National University, Korea, an MFA from Hongik University, Korea, and an MFA from Pennsylvania State University. Joo Yeon Woo is an Associate Professor in the Drawing and Painting Department of the University of South Florida.

Curator Biography:

Hyewon Yi, PhD, is Director and Curator of the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery and a full-time lecturer in Art History at SUNY Old Westbury. Effective fall 2023, Yi has been appointed Assistant Professor of Art History. Dr. Yi has an extensive track record of curatorial activities, having mounted over fifty exhibitions at the Wallace Gallery, introducing emerging and mid-career contemporary US and international artists. Yi writes often about Contemporary art and artists, and has conducted interviews with artists from around the world. Career highlights include winning the Fund for Korean Art Abroad 2021–2022 in support of the exhibition Sung Rok Choi: Great Chain of Being (February/March 2022), and receiving the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service in May 2022. Recently Yi designed the College’s new gallery, ART LAB of Social Justice & Environmental Justice Institute (SEJI).

Dr. Yi served as a curator for the AHL Foundation from 2007 through 2015, assisting the not-for-profit organization in its early days by organizing seven exhibitions: Fresh Illusions (2007), Breaking Out (2008), Eclectic Visionaries (2009), On the Verge (2010), Casting Memories (2011), Relative Perspective: Sungmin Ahn (2013), and Spatial Visions (2015). Charged represents Yi’s return as a guest curator at AHL’s new venue in West Harlem.

Born in Seoul, Dr. Yi earned a BFA (Summa Cum Laude) from Duk Sung Women’s University, Seoul, an MA. in Art History from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a PhD in Art History from the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Yi received a Study Abroad Scholarship from her Korean alma mater and a Dissertation Fellowship from the Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY.


This project was supported, in part, by the Creative Scholarship Grant of the University of South Florida, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant, COLLECTIVE SML | k, and the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery of SUNY Old Westbury.


The exhibition catalogue, which will be produced after the exhibition, includes an essay by Lilly Wei and an interview/conversation with the artists conducted by Hyewon Yi.

Gallery Hours

Wednesdays – Saturdays: 11am – 5pm


AHL Foundation, 2605 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, NY 10030

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