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New arts space in SF Chinatown will be a voice for social change

by Akemi Tamanaha, Associate Editor

As anti-Asian violence persists throughout the country, a new contemporary art space in San Francisco’s Chinatown called “Edge on the Square” is encouraging community healing and bonding.

Edge on the Square is a project managed by the Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative (CMAC), a platform founded by six San Francisco-based AAPI non-profit organizations. The space’s head curator Candace Huey, who joined the project in 2022, says the contemporary art will focus on important social issues.

“It’s contemporary art, meaning, why is it important? What issues are working with us today, in present day, and at the intersection of social social justice and visual arts,” Huey said in an interview with AsAmNews.

Opening night CMAC’s Edge on the Square in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Huey added that the goal is to leverage art to promote and grow change.

“What I mean by growing changes is helping to maybe cultivate the future generations and having them have a shift and have a place at the table to
express what they want to express,” she said.

The space has been years in the making, with early ideas for the project blossoming in 2017. Nearly four years later, thanks to the help of state legislatures like Assemblymember Phil Ting, Edge on the Square received $26.5 million in funding from the California state budget. The project has been championed by hardworking community members like Mabel Teng, who is currently serving as the interim executive director of CMAC.

Now, the space is ready to welcome community members to view its first exhibition at 800 Grant Ave., a large building that used to be a general store. According to Huey, the store was a space for community-based activism where people found a way to support one another against racist polices. During the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Wee Lee Louie family who owned the store would keep merchants names on file so they had a way of proving that the merchants were their employees when they traveled.

“We wanted to honor their family and also kind of bridge the past to the present,” Huey said.

Edge on the Square’s first exhibition Learning to Land: A Story of Crossing Paths and Intergenerational Histories does exactly that. The exhibition examines intergenerational histories as well as relationships and stories that emerge from everyday interactions in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It features work from four artists: Benjamen Chinn, Gao Ling, Lenore Chinn, Sasinun Kladpetch and Sherwin Rio.

Ling’s installation, for example, directly pays tribute to the Wee Lee Louie family. Her piece “Lily!” is an interactive conceptional shop featuring objects visitors can receive in exchange for stories. Edge on the Square has set up an audio recording system that will save visitors’ stories with their consent.

Gao Ling’s “Lily!” // Photo by Jana Asenbrennerova, courtesy of CMAC

Sasinun Kladpetch poured family memories into her pieces for the exhibition. She came to San Francisco from Thailand to go to graduate school. Her art primarily focuses on sculptures made from concrete and moss. She says the moss reminds her of immigrant experience.

“And then, as an immigrant, I came here, and then when I see [the moss], I feel like, even moss can, you know, like, grow in the situation? You know, they can’t predict where they’re going to be. So that kind of reminds me of my situation when I first moved here,” she said in an interview with AsAmNews.

Sasisun Kladpetch poses next to her work //Photo by Jana Asenbrennerova, courtesy of CMAC

Kladpetch worked on some of her pieces while she was back home visiting her parents in Thailand. She used fabric that her grandma had left as a canvas, which her father helped her cut. Kladpetch’s grandparents have passed but she is taking them with her by using the keepsakes they left her in her art.

“It’s really emotional, even when I work on it, because like, everything I did, I kind of like use my hands to do it. And it’s remind me of how my grandparents… establish themselves,” she said. :They were hard working and you know, trying to like, support the family and everything. So it’s kind of like remind me about how they got to the point.”

The space held its grand opening on January 13. Its first exhibitions will run through May with many more exhibitions to follow.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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