Sacramento, CA – In an attempt to pay homage to Sacramento’s Little Saigon and the upcoming Lunar New Year celebration of the Year of the Dragon, Well Space Health commissioned Wide Open Walls Sacramento (WOW) to “depict five unique interpretations of the Year of the Dragon.” WOW demonstrated their profound lack of awareness and respect for the communities that make up South Sacramento by omitting the Asian American community they intended to “celebrate.” Art serves as a powerful platform for storytelling, cultural expression, and representation. When WOW knowingly selected artists that lacked this cultural background, they failed to meaningfully engage the Asian American community in Sacramento, and in their tepid response to public critique, erased the diverse and culturally rich Asian American community.
The Lunar New Year mural is the direct result of shallow cultural humility from both the artists and WOW. Omitting Asian American artists and community voices, resulted in the mural including a Filipino indigenous Kalinga Warrior, whose cultural background is unrelated to Lunar New Year. These inaccurate interpretations and depictions reinforce the harmful stereotype that Asian Americans are monolithic in our experiences and cultures. These stereotypes are the same belief systems at the root of the unprecedented rise in anti-Asian hate incidents and violence our Asian American communities are experiencing today. By sidelining Asian American artists and community voices during a celebration deeply rooted in their heritage, WOW expresses a distressing indifference to its own value of diversity through artistic expression and a disregard for the rich cultural diversity within the Asian American community.
This misstep and WOW’s response in the aftermath are unacceptable. Moving forward, it is crucial for WOW to not only include but prioritize the meaningful engagement of Asian American artists and community voices to collectively develop art with trust and confidence. WOW must take concrete steps towards self-accountability that includes direct, on-going, and authentic partnership with local Asian American-led and serving organizations in the region. True representation in art means engaging with all facets of our community that includes our culture, representation, and agency, especially those that have been historically marginalized. Without meaningful engagement and representation of the Asian American community in the Lunar New Year mural, Wide Open Walls perpetuates the erasure and misrepresentation of the Asian American community and denies the respect and agency of the Asian American community and our culture.