Taking Up Space

Oakland, CA—August 12, 2021

Christy Chan, A+P+I Artist-in-Residence at Mills College, is installing site-specific, large scale projections highlighting messages from Asian American and Pacific Islander artists that confront racism. Interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker Christy Chan—the A+P+I Artist-in-Residence at Mills—is casting light on community resilience and antiracist solidarity across the Oakland cityscape this summer through the Dear America Project, a roaming art exhibition. With her crew of roving film production collaborators, Chan and her team install site-specific, large-scale guerilla projections foregrounding messages from Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists that confront racism.

“I’m drawn to projection art because of not only the physicality, but the symbolism of taking up space,” says Chan.

Beaming across facades from downtown high rises to Mills Hall, the projections of Dear America showcase works by Chan and other AAPI creators including Christine Wong Yap, Jenifer K. Wofford, Mel Chin x For Freedoms, Mills Professor Cathy Lu, and contributions from artists’ collective Related Tactics. Core to the project is the emphasis on representing a “chorus of voices,” and the exhibition features a rotating showcase of multiple AAPI perspectives. Collectively, artworks featured in the project elevate responses to anti-Asian violence in the Bay Area and beyond in highly visible public spaces.

“As someone who came from a working class family with language barriers, I believe in art existing outside the four walls of traditional institutions,” says Chan. “I value opportunities to bring public art into communities that don’t typically get to see themselves represented in art museums. Public art is for everyone.”

For Chan, the project has local as well as political dimensions. While the Bay Area ranks among the most diverse regions in the nation, and roughly a third of its population identify as Asian-American, Chan contends that many non Asian-Americans remain unaware of the prejudices long experienced by the AAPI community—from the recent abuse of Asian elders to under-reported arson and destruction of multiple Chinese neighborhoods in the Bay Area.

“The intention of my work is often to critique power and white supremacy,” says Chan of her art practice. This focus in her art is influenced by her upbringing in a Southern town, which was initially established as a sanctuary for white residents who did not agree with the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, and in which public school students were expected to pledge allegiance to the Confederate flag.

“As an artist, I’m interested in opportunities to tell a fuller truth and flip the script,” says Chan: “Not asking permission is central and intentional to this project,” she says, “Asian Americans and communities of color in general shouldn’t need permission to share a perspective that is critical of racism.”

Creating platforms for everyday citizens to take up space in cultural conversations is fundamental to her artistry. It is also what drew her to the A+P+I residency at Mills, an interdisciplinary program of the Mills College Art Museum and the College’s Art Department. The residency creates opportunities for Mills faculty, staff, and students to learn from visiting artists—though Chan says she learns as much from Mills students as they do from her.

“I come from a different generation, and grew up in an era when young women had to advocate to have a voice. What I see with these students is that they’re just unapologetic about who they are,” says Chan, “It’s been a fun and extraordinary experience to hear their perspectives on the world.”

The A+P+I Residency, which stands for “Art + Process + Ideas,” focuses on supporting the development of the long arc of artistic production, from conception to logistics. Chan credits the residency for fostering experimentation and accessibility for a medium as technically intensive as projection. Alongside support from the Mills College Art Museum, Dear America is made possible by community donations and support from Stand With Asian Americans.

“The main reason this project is coming together so quickly is because so many people are contributing heart and sweat and muscle, and I really appreciate the efforts of the many artists and makers collaborating on this project,” says Chan. “I see Dear America as an example of how, so long as artists and organizations and allies come together in solidarity, we do have the power to question the narrative.”

The culminating exhibition is Thursday, August 12 at the Montalvo Arts Center beginning at 7:30 pm; please RSVP.

About Mills College Art Museum
Founded in 1925, the Mills College Art Museum is a forum for exploring art and ideas and a laboratory for contemporary art practices. Through innovative exhibitions, programs, and collections, the museum engages and inspires the intellectual and creative life of the Mills community as well as the diverse audiences of the Bay Area and beyond.

About Mills College
Located in Oakland, California, Mills is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women and gender nonbinary students, with graduate programs for all genders. Ranked one of the top-tier regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills is also recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the Best 386 Colleges in the nation. As one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country, Mills has a strong record of academic success with first-generation students, students of color, Latinx students, LGBTQ+ students, and other underrepresented students. The Mills experience is distinguished by small, interactive classes, one-on-one attention from exceptional faculty, a culture of creative experimentation, and cutting-edge interdisciplinary learning opportunities which empower students to make a statement in their careers and communities.