Stone Gallery exhibition showcases work by Chinese and Chinese-American graphic designers – The Daily Free Press

Radical Return – an exhibition that showcases the work of 36 Chinese and Chinese-American graphic designers and artists from around the world – is on display at Boston University’s Faye G., Jo and James Stone Gallery and at IS A GALLERY in Shanghai, in China until December 12.

A poster presenting the Radical Return exhibition. The exhibition will be on view at the Boston University Art Galleries until December 20. PERRY SOSI / DFP STAFF

The theme of the exhibit is the Chinese character 回 – pronounced “hui” – which means “return,” said co-curators Kai Li and Mary Yang. The grid-like figure inspired artists both conceptually and visually, Li said.

“We are really using this Chinese character, or ‘hui’, as a starting point for the investigation,” said Yang, an assistant professor of art and graphic design at the College of Fine Arts. “We actually put out a call for entries for this exhibit… we gave them a 24 by 24 grid file.”

Radical Return is the first project created by “Radical Characters,” a study group initiated by Yang and Li earlier this year, dedicated to connecting the design and culture of Chinese and Sino-American designers.

Danielle Chang, junior at CFA and exhibition and design assistant, said the designers responded to the “comeback” theme by playing on the geometric shape of the character’s “square within a square”.

Not only is every work in Radical Return based on the “hui,” but the exhibition space itself is too, said Chang. The submissions hang on the four walls, and in the center of the square-shaped room is a low table filled with books on Chinese typography and graphics.

A designer featured in the exhibit, Daedalus Guoning Li, said he reflected on the meaning of “going back” by re-familiarizing with one’s cultural identity after having changed fundamentally.

Daedalus Li, a Chinese multimedia designer, now enrolled in Yale University’s MFA graphic design program, described a “misalignment” between his Chinese cultural identity and his identity as a non-binary queer person of color in the United States. United.

“I see these two as two parallel paths, but sometimes they overlap, they collide,” Daedalus Li said. “Sometimes it’s not really [a] harmonious or pleasant collision, rather than perhaps mildly stressful.

They added that sometimes others can see a change in their identity as a “mutation,” but they choose to embrace it to bring their two identities closer together.

“I’ve basically changed or fundamentally changed, which is why I spoke of embracing mutations,” they said. “In a way, the mutation is more like an outside look at my change, it is more like a mutation towards my own cultural heritage or cultural identity.”

They said they illustrated this in their Radical Return submission by conceptualizing how the mutation would affect the “normal” way of writing in calligraphy, which traditionally follows strict rules about how the brush should move. Instead, in the work, they “really exaggerate every turn and distort it, giving a pretty dramatic effect with every turn,” they said.

Another featured designer, Gene Hua, an interaction designer at the Whitney Museum of American Art, interpreted the “return” as a throwback to a pre-digital era where every character was handwritten instead of electronically typed. , allowing the spontaneous creation of new characters.

“For example, there are movements in Chinese culture to create a gender-neutral pronoun, and in languages ​​that use Latin or alphabetic characters… it’s relatively easier,” Hua said. “In Chinese, it’s really hard to make a whole new pronoun because you just can’t type it.”

Hua’s work in the exhibit centers on one of 12 “ghost characters” – Chinese characters accidentally created when the Japanese government tried to encode every “kanji” in existence, Hua said.

Her piece features a faded “ghost figure” in the background in an ethereal, ghostly way, referencing the name of this collection of characters, Hua said.

Yang added that there are English and Chinese translations throughout the exhibition both to increase accessibility and to include a way for people to practice their language skills.

“As an educator, too, it’s important to… showcase the work of Chinese and Sino-American graphic designers, and we haven’t really seen much of that, at least in the design communities we belong to.” Yang said. “So this is our chance to make space and time for this.”

Hua, who is Chinese-American, said Radical Return has helped him feel more comfortable engaging with the Chinese language through design.

“Graphic design is so much about choosing cultural cues and working with how people already understand the world,” Hua said. “For me, it was kind of pushing myself beyond those limits and making myself a little uncomfortable engaging in this transnational and transcontinental dialogue.”

Yichen Ma, a senior at the College of Arts and Sciences, said using Chinese characters is an effective way to connect Chinese with Chinese Americans.

“The concept of returning means a lot to Chinese international students as many of us can’t wait to return home,” said Ma, from Shanghai, China.

College of Communication sophomore Vicky Huang said the Chinese student population on campus is large but not often portrayed on campus like in this particular exhibit.

“I have a feeling that often people will try to dictate the differences between the two [communities], which obviously exists, ”said Huang, who is Taiwanese-American. “But by bringing them together, they are able to come together in one art exhibition and show that although we are all different, we all have our own ways of expressing our cultural pride.”

Yang said that the use of the word “radical” in the name of the exhibition is a double meaning, referring to both Chinese radicals, the building blocks of Chinese characters, and radical as an adjective – l unique idea of ​​basing graphic designs on Chinese character geometry.

As the exhibition at Stone Gallery approaches closing hours each day, its partner exhibition in Shanghai prepares to open, creating a constant exhibition.

“We wanted the conversation not to end but to be preserved even if it were to take place in a different location,” Chang said. “This conversation should always be in motion and always in the light [even] when it’s dark.

Maria D. Ervin