War Baby / Love Child: Q&A with curator Laura Kina

Custom-painted shoes by Louie Gong.

War Baby/ Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art opens at 7pm tonight at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience.

Laura Kina
Laura Kina

Laura Kina is associate professor of Art, Media, and Design, a Vincent de Paul Professor, and American Studies, Global Asian Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies affiliated faculty member at DePaul University, Chicago. She co-curated the exhibit with Wei Ming Dariotis, associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.

I sat down with Kina at the museum to learn more about the exhibit and her creative vision.

What inspired you to create this exhibit?

Well for me as a studio artist I was interested in making work about my own history of being a mixed race person; being an Asian-American person. A lot of times when I’d make my work I’d have to then re-explain so much before I could even talk about the work. The other roadblock I kept running into was that people in the art world were interested in moving beyond issues of race and having a post-racial idea that somehow we are beyond issues of race. So I wanted to look at what other artists were doing that happen to be mixed race and how are they navigating their own personal backgrounds, biographies, and histories in really new and interesting ways in their artwork. So for me the inspiration was learning about other artists and seeing how are they doing this.

My coauthor’s inspiration is the title: “War Baby / Love Child.” She was really inspired from her own personal background of people assuming that she was either a war baby or a love child so again the stereotype of being illegitimate. That’s not her particular background – it is in some cases of artists in the show – but she wanted to examine those stereotypes that historically have existed about mixed race people.

Live Long and Prosper (Spock Was a Half-Breed). Digital print by Debra Yepa-Pappan, 2008.
Live Long and Prosper (Spock Was a Half-Breed). Digital print by Debra Yepa-Pappan, 2008.

Wei Ming and I are just a couple years apart: I was born in 1973 and for me I didn’t have that experience of people assuming that I was a war baby or an illegitimate love child. Instead, I had the experience of having a celebration of multiculturalism and being held up is in some cases mixed race is a sign of racial progress but that also is problematic. So our project comes together and looks at these histories how do these stereotypes or ideas come about and what is that history behind it.

Let’s talk about the name of this exhibit: War Baby/ Love Child. Where does that name come from?

After World War II you had US soldiers bringing home “war brides” from Korea and Japan and their children would be considered the war babies. Or they would be fathered in these Asian countries and the child wouldn’t be brought over so there were these illegitimate children and that’s still on-going we have US military presence all over the place.

It is for some people a reality but it’s also a term that’s really painful for people because it speaks to them as not being legitimate.

The term love child is often associated with hippies and free love so on one hand it’s a child who is illegitimate but we are also looking at it in our book that the idea of a mixed race person has been flipped to being the sign for racial progress and the ultimate symbol of love so all of these things are problematic. This divorces the child from other communities of color and gives the assumption that we are moving into whiteness when we may not want to or that may not be the truth.

[My co-author] Wei Ming was envisioning having a t-shirt that said “War Baby/Love Child” and on the back “which one are you” because people were constantly asking her which one she was.

Selection from The Hapa Project. Digital print by Kip Fulbeck, 2006.
Selection from The Hapa Project. Digital print by Kip Fulbeck, 2006.

How does the diversity of the artists themselves shape this exhibit?  

There are 19 artists showcased who come from all over the US, one that comes from Denmark and each of them has a very different narrative. We’ve intentionally chosen younger artists in their 20’s [as well as] some artists who refuse to tell us their age but I can tell you they’re in the older age bracket. So they’ve had very different life experiences…

Because of that there are a lot of different vantage points. There isn’t one aesthetic you see here; there isn’t one particular story. There are definite similarities that we can see…but I think that diversity just shows you how rich this history is.…

You can’t just say ‘oh I’m mixed, I understand,’ as if there is one sort of experience.

How do you hope the exhibit will impact mixed-race viewers?

One of the takeaways I hope people, regardless of if they are mixed race or not, is to know that mixed race is not something new and that these things shouldn’t be divorced from history. One of the pitfalls a lot of the time is that people think that their story is unique and exceptional and that there is nobody else out there like them (which may be true). This exhibition is about placing our lives within the larger context of history so that’s one of the goals of this show. To show that mixed race is not something new and that it shouldn’t be looked at outside of these very specific histories these artists lives are in. I also want people to understand that we are looking at race as a social construct not as mixed race as some new racial category outside and by itself.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.