Chinatown Art Brigade Protests Racially Insensitive ‘Poverty Porn’ at James Cohan Gallery

Posted on: October 16th, 2017 at 9:00 am by

Photo: Chinatown Art Brigade

A controversial show at the James Cohan Gallery that’s drawn local ire in the Chinatown community was the site of an invasive protest action yesterday.

The Chinatown Art Brigade, known for its nighttime projections of “Chinatown is not for sale” onto building facades, organized the rally on Grand Street in response to the racially insensitive nature of its latest exhibit by Omer Fast, entitled August.

The installation itself is essentially a collection of caricatures rolled into one. Basically, a ridicule and reinforcement of negative stereotypes of “uncleanliness, otherness, and blight” often associated with the neighborhood. The space tries to mimic a business in disrepair, complete with faded awning, broken ATMs, cracked linoleum floors, and plastic bags on door handles.

What began as a sidewalk demonstration with bullhorn eventually morphed into an invasion of the showroom itself, announcing their collective distaste toward the “protest porn” that this show represents.

Hyperallergic previously covered the opening, and wrote the following, in part:

What Fast has created and presented as a place of fantasy reveals his own condescension toward a culture that is not his own. When Edward W. Said published Orientalism in 1978, he popularized the term as a way of describing the West’s historical tendency to claim its own superiority in contrast to an exaggeratedly abnormal, Other, foreign East. Fast’s Chinese storefront exists in stark contrast to the back gallery, where, down a narrow hallway, the viewer enters a shockingly clean black theater space showing video work “August” (2016). The very layout of the exhibition employs the logic of Orientalism: presenting an exotic, culturally barbaric East as an intentional and over-produced artificial contrast that affirms the inherent cleanliness and desirability of Western minimalism.

Ergo, it’s amazing that the two-year-old gallery can get away with such a culturally insensitive theme in the very neighborhood it’s representing.

“This show is yet another example of how gentrifying institutions appropriate histories of violent oppression to garner cultural, monetary and artistic clout,” the vociferous Chinatown Art Brigade noted in a public statement. “This exhibition is a hostile act towards communities on the front lines fighting tenant harassment, cultural appropriation and erasure.”

Fast’s entrance at 291 Grand Street also bears striking resemblance to that racist mobile video game Dirty Chinese Restaurant, which included scenes of chefs chasing cats to serve as menu fare or toiling at “sweatshop levels” while trying to evade immigration officers. (The game is now dead in the water.)

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