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Zhiyu Wang/MEDILL

Artist Debra Yepa-Pappan said she is proud of her art piece "half-empty or half-full?" on the “Indian Land Dancing” mural  on the Foster Avenue


Artists explore the image of mixed race Asian-Americans in DePaul exhibit

by Zhiyu Wang
April 18, 2013


Courtesy of Debra Yepa-Pappan

"Live Long and Prosper (Spock Was A Half-Breed)" by Debra Yepa-Pappan


Courtesy of Chris Naka

Image from Chris Naka's video "The Tale of Selling the Tale."

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War Baby/Love Child Exhibition

If you want to go

"War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art" exhibition runs from April 25 to June 30 at DePaul University Art Museum, 935 W. Fullerton Ave.  

Opening reception will be 6-8 p.m. April 25.  

Museum hours are 11-5 Monday through Thursday, 11-7 Friday, noon-5 Saturday and Sunday. 

Admission is free.

In college, Wei Ming Dariotis used to want a T-shirt with “war baby” on the front and “love child” on the back. That way whenever people asked her “what are you?” she could just point to the T-shirt and say, “take your pick.”

Now her imaginary T-shirt has turned into an actual exhibition. The "War Baby/Love Child" show at DePaul University features artworks from 19 contemporary artists, all of whom are of mixed heritage, meaning either they are mixed-raced or they are transracial adoptees.

“This is part of a beginning that people can see visually what it means to be mixed raced,” said Debra Yepa-Pappan, a Jemez Pueblo and Korean artist who lives in Chicago.

The title “War Baby/Love Child” comes from the experience Dariotis, co-curator and associate professor of Asian-American studies at San Francisco State University, had when she was young. When she said her mom is Chinese and her father is Greek /Swedish /English /Scottish /German /Pennsylvania Dutch, people would always ask, “did your parents meet in the war?”

“And I always ask myself, ha, I was born in 1969, we were not at war with China in 1969,” Dariotis said. “Where did they get this image?”

According to “Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife,” the public understanding of mixed race Asian-Americans usually involves images of either the war baby or the love child. People assume mixed raced Asians were children of American military personnel and Asian women, or they were result of free-style hippie love and illegal sex (before 1967’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Loving v. Virginia that legalized interracial marriage).

“The great thing about art is that the artists themselves are creating their own images about what it means to be mixed-raced,” Dariotis said.

In her work "Live Long and Prosper (Spock Was A Half-Breed)," Yepa-Pappan placed her face on an Edward S. Curtis photograph of a Plains Indian woman with teepees behind her to juxtapose herself with the stereotypical image of Native Americans that Yepa-Pappan said Curtis’s photos helped perpetuate. She also explores the relation between Spock, who is of mixed human-Vulcan heritage, and herself by doing a Vulcan salute in the picture.

“Spock goes through his own identity issues and try to grapple with being half Vulcan and half human,” Yepa-Pappan said. “That’s very similar to a lot of people that are mixed raced.”

But to the new generation mixed race Asian-American artist like Chris Naka, identity is not at the forefront of his artistic practice, probably because he didn’t have the same painful experience with racism that past generations had, he said.

As a child, Naka used to mark Asian on standardized tests like SAT before students could mark multiple races. And his dad would tease him about how he would bring up reading and social studies scores of Asian kids, but bringing down their math scores, because he was good in language but weak in math. The expectation for Asian kids to do well in math is pretty much all Naka had to suffer.

“I think the exhibition will give a good sense of how these things change from generation to generation and how certain generations have a different relationship to their identities as mixed race individuals,” said Naka, a Northwestern University graduate student in fine arts.

The population of Asians alone or in combination with another race grew 46 percent between the 2000 and 2010 census, which was more than any other major race group, according to the US census.

According to Dariotis, the definition of mixed heritage Asian-Americans should be expanded to include not only mixed race Asian-Americans, but also people who are of two or more Asian ethnic groups. To some Asian-American communities, such as Japanese Americans, the majority of the next generation will be of mixed heritage, so it’s important for them to see themselves reflected in the way that they are not usually reflected in society, she said.

Exhibit curator Laura Kina, an associate professor of art at DePaul University, said she is hoping the exhibition will spark conversation on issues of race, identity and visual representation in the arts.

“We are not aiming to just have this be a celebratory show about being mixed,” Kina said.