Opening night at a new exhibition from COMA
By Shirley L Ng with photos from Corky Lee, AsAmNews Staff Writers & Photographers
A pop-up photo exhibit sprang up in New York City’s Lower East Side nestled in between old tenement buildings on Friday. The gallery is featuring photographs by photojournalist and community advocate Corky Lee. Opening night was Friday with free admission and wine. The exhibition runs through September 30.
The exhibit is hosted by the Chinatown Organization for Media Awakening (COMA), a grassroots group located in Chinatown. (Editor’s Note: both Shirley Ng and Corky Lee are members of COMA). They were formally organized just this year after seeing decades of Chinese Americans being underrepresented and misrepresented in the media and that includes the entertainment industry.
Over 30 photos in the gallery spans several decades of Lee’s work showing photographs of Asian Americans at civil rights protests, rallies and in civic engagement. It shows the racism Asians struggle with daily in all aspects of their lives – at work, in community and in politics. Asians do have a voice and they do fight injustice. Lee’s photos capture what most of America does not see.
“COMA wanted to put up an exhibit about the community of anti-Asian material, so I pulled together 36 photographs of both past and present. It’s a real eye-opener for people not familiar with civil rights among the Asian Americans, “ Lee said.
COMA’s mission goes even further to counter stereotypes that Chinatown is filled with opium dens, speakeasys, and gambling joints. It also hopes to dispel the fear that COVID-19 “lives here” or that Chinese Americans eat dogs. Anything in the Chinese American community that is not being reported fairly or is fake news, COMA is monitoring.
When the weather warmed up and Chinatown was slowly opening up for business after being shuttered by COVID-19 and xenophobia, COMA quickly created a PSA on an iPhone to support local Chinatown business informing viewers “Chinatown is open for you!.” The PSA countered what has been problematic for Chinatown. When local media or film crews needed a seedy or ghetto background for their story or film, they came to Chinatown as their backdrop. When there was a news report on COVID-19, the media used an Asian community to report it from from, subconsciously telling their readers and viewers this is where COVID is from. Asian American groups including the Asian American Journalists Association have since called that out.
In July, a Chinese grandmother walking in her Brooklyn neighborhood was set on fire by two boys. The news media did not report on her race except for WABC-TV. COMA was not having it. They saw it as a hate crime and pressed local media to report the victim’s race so that the NYPD would label it as such. Two 13-year-old suspects have been caught, but the NYPD has yet to label it a hate crime.
Hosting this exhibit was COMA’s first public event, a way to formally introduce themselves to the community and local government officials of their mission and advocacy work.
Most of Lee’s photographs are black and white. The progression to more recent times are in the colored photographs. Most importantly, the photos capture historical moments that are important to Asians, but mainstream media or historians ignore. COMA’s gallery of Lee’s photographers shouts “We are not perpetual foreigners.” Through education, COMA hopes racism can be minimized.
They have plans to establish more Asian representation in all aspect of the media and entertainment industry and become a source to all media companies. COMA can be reached at [email protected]
The gallery runs through September 30 from 12 noon – 6pm at 69 Eldridge Street in New York City. Admission is free and masks are required.
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