The Atlanta spa shootings that left eight dead were a shock for many residents who consider Atlanta an accepting, diverse, multicultural community where civil rights are the lingua franca.
“I didn’t believe this happened in Atlanta” says Koren American artist and Doraville resident Jiha Moon, who started clutching a can of pepper spray in her pocket riding MARTA to her teaching job at Georgia State University following the a rising tide of violence against Asians.
A successful, widely-exhibited artist, Moon has shown her work at the High Museum of Art, the Mint Museum and Washington, D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum among many others.
But like so many things in a news cycle where fresh attacks soon overshadow previous violence, Moon was afraid violent attacks on the Asian community would soon fade from public memory.
Already, Moon says, incidents of violence against Asians are often “treated as not major news.” A recently released Stop AAPI Hate report says that there have been 3,795 reported (although most hate crimes tend to be underreported) cases of harassment or violence against Asian Americans from March 2020 to February 2021, with most hate crimes directed at Asian women.
But Moon wanted to act in the wake of those Atlanta attacks.
“I felt some sense of responsibility, that I have to do something about this,” says Moon. “I don’t want to sit around and be a victim.”
“The Asian tendency is not to talk about the bad news out loud,” says Moon, but, she adds, “That time is gone. We have to act differently.”
Thus the title of the virtual art exhibition she has curated: “Out Loud.”
Organized with support from Atlanta Contemporary executive director Veronica Kessenich, “Out Loud” is on view (and for sale) on the Atlanta Contemporary website through August 1. Moon’s aim for “Out Loud” is to highlight Asian American women artists and raise money for Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), a national legal advocacy group whose Atlanta office is based in Norcross.
The 10 participating artists, including Moon, in “Out Loud” are donating all or a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their work to the AAJC. Moon drew from a wide swath of fellow Asian artists based in Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus, Georgia, and New York. Participating artists are Korean American, Filipino American and Chinese American. They illustrate the diversity of styles and approaches in a group show that is inspired by advocacy but functions more like a traditional group show.
The work on view varies, from a striking portrait in shades of blue and magenta from recent Georgia State University grad Melissa Huang to Atlanta-based artist Sonya Yong James’ unique dyed wool sculptures in intense fuchsia and black. Artist Soo Kim offers an abstract work crafted with an unexpected material: rice. The individual grains of rice the artist applies to panel reference moments of food scarcity experienced by her Korean grandparents and also demonstrate the power in individuals when they become a multitude.
For Moon “Out Loud” is intended to counter the stereotypical perceptions of Asian women as compliant, quiet “model minorities.”
Moon, who left Korea over 20 years ago, says she has had to contend with her share of anti-Asian bias, from Instagram trolls to the friend who told Moon she should stop reading the news if she found anti-Asian attacks so troubling. She says those kinds of micro-aggressions have extended to the art world too, like the collector in New York who wanted to know why her artwork was so expensive if she was young and Asian.
To Moon, “Out Loud” is a way to fight back against the feeling of invisibility that Asian American women can feel and empower herself and other women, to take a stand.
But anti-Asian hate crimes are “still happening,” says Moon. “We have a long way to go.”
“We have had to be invisible to be safe, and I hope that’s not the world we’re giving to our children.”