“Crossing Cultures: Belle Yang, A Story of Immigration” chronicling the journey of California-based artist & author opens May 20
National traveling exhibit featuring over 30 original works illustrates the experiences of a Chinese American immigrant living the American dream
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — May 13, 2015: Developed by the Bakersfield Museum of Art and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, “Crossing Cultures: Belle Yang, A Story of Immigration” opens on Wednesday, May 20 at the California Museum. Currently on a national tour by International Arts & Artists of Washington DC, the traveling exhibit features over 30 original works by California-based artist and author Belle Yang, who chronicles her journey as a Chinese American immigrant living the American dream through vibrant paintings, illustrations and graphic novels.
Born in Taiwan, Yang immigrated to the United States with her parents at age seven, where she quickly adapted to her new home in the San Francisco Bay Area and learned to incorporate American culture into her identity. As a young person, Yang says, she never truly appreciated her Chinese heritage.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts in biology from UC Santa Cruz, Yang fell in love with art and architecture, prompting her to continue her studies at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In 1986, she left the U.S. to reconnect with her parents’ heritage while studying traditional ink paintings and folk art at the Beijing Academy of Traditional Chinese Painting. Fluent in Mandarin, Yang found that her time in China gave her a renewed appreciation for her heritage, which unlocked her ability to portray the stories of her ancestors through words and images.
“I think China defined my style,” explained Yang, “Particularly the folk art, which is bright and cheerful. It’s fun and whimsical, whereas traditional Chinese painting is very restrictive because each brushstroke must be perfect from years of studying calligraphy.”
After witnessing the horrors of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Yang returned to California with a deeper connection to her ancestors’ culture, leading her to begin writing stories about her father’s childhood and drawing accompanying illustrations. With the help of fellow Chinese American novelist Amy Tan, Yang published her first book, “Baba: A Return to China Upon My Father’s Shoulders,” in 1994.
“Belle Yang is an American writer who writes in English and thinks in Chinese,” wrote Tan in her introduction to Yang’s first novel. “Her writing feels Chinese… it is as though we, the readers of English, can now miraculously read Chinese.”
Containing over 30 original works in various media, the exhibit illustrates Yang’s ability to bridge the gap between Chinese and American cultures through 25 paintings, such as the “The Living Buddha,” “The Kitchen God” and “Up on Granddaddy Hill,” and 8 ink drawings from the 2010 graphic novel “Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale.” In addition, the exhibit also includes a presentation of the documentary film on Yang’s life, “My Name is Belle,” which was the recipient of a CINE Golden Eagle award in 2007.
“The California Museum is thrilled to be a stop on the ‘Crossing Cultures’ national tour,” said the California Museum’s Executive Director Dori Moorehead. “Yang’s work not only chronicles her experiences of a Chinese American immigrant living the American dream in California, it also reflects the rich cultural diversity that California is world-renowned for.”
To date, Yang has written and illustrated seven children’s books, winning her the Chinese American Librarian Association Best Picture Book for “Always Come Home to Me” in 2008. Her work has been exhibited at museums and cultural centers across the country, including the National Steinbeck Center, Pacific Asia Museum, San Francisco Main Public Library and the Boston Public Library, among others.
Continuing at the California Museum through August 12, “Crossing Cultures” will continue on a nationwide tour and open next at the Juniata College Museum of Art in Huntingdon, PA on November 12, 2015.