Expression takes hold at 'Pieces of Me, Pieces of We'

People look at the artwork by SF State students in the Photographic Expressions of Asian Americans class at Manilatown Heritage Center in San Francisco April 3, 2011. Erik Verduzco / staff photographer

SF State students presented their artwork in “Pieces of Me, Pieces of We” Tuesday in an exhibit at the International Hotel Manilatown Center in downtown San Francisco.

The exhibit was part of the final project for an Asian American studies class called hotographic expressions of Asian Americans.

The students’ assignment was to portray an important figure who had a significant impact on their lives.  Many students chose family members for the subjects of their art.

“My mother came to America with nothing, and the fact that she is happy makes me want to live better,” said Christopher Chaubard, a senior majoring in Asian American studies.  “The way I am is because of her.”

Chaubard weaved small photographs of himself and his family together to form a large image of his mother.

The photo that he based his work off was taken at a refugee camp in Thailand, after his mother escaped from a repressive regime in Cambodia when she was just 10 years old.

“She went through a lot,” he said.

With plates full of homemade food, spectators perused the 23 different works.  A disc jockey spun background music to keep the gallery’s climate lively.

Students organized all aspects of the exhibit, from hanging the artwork to making fliers.

“It was a lot of work,” said senior art education major Heather Boyer.  “It gives me confidence that I can actually do this.”

Along with being a curator, Boyer also produced a piece honoring her father, who passed away last November.

Boyer surrounded the portrait with sentimental objects, such as a pocketknife, transistor radio and a picture of him seated in his Chevy convertible.

“He taught me a lot about who I am,” she said.  “I feel like he’s still with me even though he’s not here in the physical world.”

In her class, professor Valerie Soe exposes her students to political and cultural photography, and invites local artists to share their work, she said.

This semester’s show was the second time Soe had her class display their work at the Minilatown Center, which is a housing complex for low-income seniors and has a long history with the Filipino community.

The crowd of about 50 exceeded last year’s turnout, Soe said.

“They did a really good job of capturing the relationship between their subjects and themselves,” Soe said.  “It’s important to remember people who’ve struggled for them.”

But not every student chose to depict a figure from the past as their most influential person.

Derek Macario, a freshmen majoring in studio art, photographed his girlfriend who has been raising money to help earthquake victims Japan.

She has raised more than $4,000 by selling bracelets she handcrafts herself, Macario said.

“She’s the person I spend the most time with,” he said.  “She supports me in everything I do.”

Macario is studying to be a professional photographer, but sometimes doubts his abilities.  His girlfriend gave him some inspirational words of encouragement, and for his final project he photographed her in black and white holding a sign with those words printed in a contrasting red.

At the exhibit he sold his print for $60, which he will donate to the Japanese relief effort.

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