In the Presence Of: an Exhibit at Berkeley Art Center

I'm always (choose an adjective: relieved, happy, excited, pleased, inspired) when I visit an art gallery, center, or museum and see actual physical work obviously made by one (choose a noun: artist, maker, creative). That statement may seem puzzling, but in the past few years I've been frustrated by the lack of the artist's hand in the work. The mind may be there, the work may show a curiosity and a concept, but sometimes it feels random, like mirrors arranged in a room or lights that make the viewer's shadow the artwork, or crowd-sourced, like 1000 people wrote their wishes and here they are.

Currently, on view at the Berkeley Art Center until April, 20, 2024, in the exhibition In the Presence Of, actual objects line the walls and pedestals, each made by an artist who is or was at one time a member of the collective, Asian American Women Artists Association. This is not a new collective, it was founded in 1989 by Flo Oy Wong and Betty Kano, both artists, as a support group and professional organization for Asian American women artists who were not seeing themselves represented or included in the wider art realm. A wonderful pdf that explains more in detail, and lists the artists included and their works can be found here.

I found the aforementioned pdf only after I had seen the show. It would have helped to read it beforehand since there were no names or numbers on the walls that corresponded to the works. The booklet does have a schematic with numbers and all the info, which is easy to follow, since the room is small and easy to navigate.

Briefly, I will show some pieces that caught my eye. I suspect you will understand why when you see them.

Lucy Arai, 2008.09; 2008.08; 2008.01

cotton, handmade paper, silk, sumi ink indigo, 18kt gold, acrylic



According to this website, Arai was sent to Japan to live with her aunt and uncle to learn about her mother's culture even though she did not speak Japanese, and they did not speak English. This experience of learning by doing and watching and without words is evident in her artwork. The sashiko shows up as stitched lines and patterns, the shibori as dyed fabric coverings, and the balls evoke the temari (embroidered balls) that were once played with as toys in Japan until rubber became more common, and the balls became artworks. 

Arai's balls are interesting in that they are hollow and open to the air or can be containers to more balls or globes. These have a lacy texture, due to the string (rather than opaque fabrics strips) that forms the main structure. Very delicate and beautiful, I think, yet also sturdy.

A statement and more of her work here and other places online.

Nancy Hom (and friends), AAWAA 35th Anniversary Mandala, 2024: mixed media

I was just really tickled by the "sponge" cake petit fours, which aren't obvious from a distance.

Shari Arai DeBoer, Library of Imagination, 2009
objects, artworks, handmade books, materials from AAWAA that inspire her

I was interested to see her shaped pocket accordion, for one. But the whole portable art cabinet / book shelf idea appeals to me.

Terry Acebo Davis, Waiting for the Rain, 2003
Davis is a nurse as well as an artist.
This is a copperplate etching from photographs of her paternal grandmother and radiographs of her father's brain after a stroke and poem by Davis that she wrote "as she walked through a cemetery in Seattle where the writer Carlos Bulosan and many Filipino elders were buried" (p11, exhibit pdf).

A beautiful piece combining writing, art, science, memory, loss, and family.

These tangible works not only showcase skills in design and making, but can continue to resonate emotionally, wordlessly, as the memories of them linger.