Asian Art Museum’s Virtual ‘Queer Pasts and Futures’ to Feature Experimental LGBTQ-Centric Films by Two Sci-Fi Artists

By JL Odom

What if the story of a historical event or an individual involved drag, comedy, music, dance, pop culture and fantasy?

While the standard history curriculum in schools may not yet be okay with including these elements, two San Francisco artists are — in their film work.

This Thursday, the Museum of Asian Art is hosting “Queer Pasts and Futures,” an hour-and-a-half online program that focuses on experimental short films by San Francisco artists TT Takemoto and Viet Le.

In an interview, Takemoto explains: “For me, experimental film is a format that allows us to speculate on the past. But it’s different from documentary or narrative film that tries to tell a more definitive story, or the truth of a story.

Megan Merritt, project manager for contemporary art at the Museum of Asian Art, will host Thursday’s online event, scheduled from 6-7:30 p.m. until early September.


Takemoto shares that “Queer Pasts and Futures” is tied to the exhibition: “This program of experimental films was born out of ‘Seeing Gender’ and the desire to have public programming that was in conversation with this exhibition.”

Takemoto was one of the community advisors for “Seeing Gender”; in this role, they offered their insights and feedback to the exhibition’s curatorial team while contributing to a reflective statement on the exhibition, which can be seen in the museum’s Tateuchi gallery.

The format of “Queer Pasts and Futures” also derives from “Seeing Gender”. Takemoto comments that they and Le thought it would be interesting to combine their works according to themes, similar to the structure of the exhibition. There are three pairs in total, with each pair featuring one of Takemoto’s films and one of Le’s films. Following each pair’s presentation, Merritt will moderate a conversation on their themes, with a Q&A session reserved for the end of the program.

Explains Takemoto, “It’s a bit different from a more conventional movie screening where you can show all the movies at once and then have a moderated conversation.”

Takemoto and Le work together at the California College of the Arts – Takemoto as Dean of Humanities and Le as Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Culture. Both are also board members of the Queer Cultural Center.

And there is their common interest in experimental cinema to approach the past and envision the future in unique ways.

Takemoto says, “We use elements like pop cultural references and humor to show that we’re not trying to create a precise image, but an image that has different kinds of emotional qualities.”

The personal stories and identities of both artists are regularly reflected in their work.

Le is a Vietnamese-American who came to the United States as a refugee; in his art he focuses on aspects such as migration, Asian diasporas, spirituality, healing and sexuality. These elements, to varying degrees, appear in the three films he will present on Thursday: “heARTbreak”, “eclipse” and “the memory of the sky is enough”.

Takemoto is a fourth-generation Japanese-American, and their parents and grandparents on both sides of their family were incarcerated in American internment camps during World War II.

Takemoto notes, “I think about this story a lot, and I also think about it through the lens of queer people or people who have had same-sex romantic relationships or were gender non-conforming.”

According to Takemoto, a common feature of their and Le’s art is a top-down aesthetic, involving unusual materials and the conventions of drag.

“For me, I use things like food, [and] he uses costume-like jewelry that he molds into these elaborate costumes.

“So there’s this element of, I would say, a do-it-yourself aesthetic,” they continue. “It’s in the spirit of drag, this fabulous DIY sensibility.”

One of Takemoto’s films, “Looking for Jiro”, exemplifies this particular aesthetic. In the short, they play the role of a drag king, taking on the character of Jiro Onuma, a gay man incarcerated during World War II. Onuma, who worked in a dining hall, was fascinated by “muscular men”.

Said Takemoto of the film, “I put these spare parts together to create a kind of music video performance where the character builds these bread muscles and then ends up tweaking them and becoming the kind of muscle man he’s been dreaming of. when he is alone and incarcerated.”

Takemoto will also air “On the Line” and “Ever Wanting (for Margaret Chung)” on Thursday. The first focuses on a butch, gender-nonconforming immigrant woman who served meals to American-Japanese tuna cannery workers at her restaurant docked in San Diego in the 1930s.

Shares Takemoto, “I see her as a distinctly gender-nonconforming person in this story, and so I wanted to create a space where I imagined this very butch restaurant owner inviting all these women into the space after a long day at work. at the cannery and that there will be that kind of space for potential lesbian desire or at least same-sex camaraderie and intimacy.”

The latter draws attention to the first Chinese-American female doctor, Margaret Chung. Takemoto says, “I wanted to make a movie about her [Chung’s] complicated desires that could never be satisfied, either because of his Asianness or because of his homosexuality.”

The importance of showing these films to large audiences on Thursday — at a time when legislation restricting or completely nullifying certain rights is apparently on the rise — is not lost on Takemoto.

As they share, “I think the work that Viet and I do is so involved with the traumas of the past – how those legacies impact and have imprinted who we are in the present, but also how those stories keep reemerging. in the present and in the future.”

The “Queer Pasts and Futures” experimental film showcase will be held online starting at 6 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $5. The “Seeing Gender” exhibit runs through September 5 at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco. Admission is $14 to $20. For tickets to the virtual program, timed museum admission, and more information, visit https://asianart.org/.

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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