On a rainy Sunday afternoon in September, I finally got the chance to visit the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The “Seeing Gender” exhibition, which ran from January 21, 2021, to September 5, 2022, at the Tateuchi Gallery, showcases sixteen pieces of artwork, including sculptures and paintings from the 9th century all the way to the modern 21st century and with masterpieces created in different Asian countries from ancient China to modern-day Korea. What is fascinating about this exhibition is the message of gender and sexuality conveyed through the lens of artists over the years.
As an Asian-American, I know that the concept of gender is fundamental in Asian culture. Males are considered the dominant and powerful gender, while females are subordinate to males in every stage of life. Therefore, it is astonishing to view a completely different concept of gender roles from this exhibition by Asian artists. Little did I know that the complexities and nuances of gender have been depicted in many sculptures and paintings across Asian art.
As I looked at each piece at the exhibition, it evoked the significant role of the female in society. For example, musical instruments were traditionally played by males only in Japan, but there was a painting with three Japanese women playing the instruments instead. Another example is the statues of religious god-like Devi figures from Tibet that were revealed to be gender-fluid or gender-binary. The message in these century-old art pieces is powerful as it lets the audience reflect on how gender was perceived even centuries ago.
To me, gender and sexuality have been an important part of the dialogue in our modern day. However, this exhibition unfolds the truth – that the topic of gender and sexuality has existed for ages, at least among artists who used their medium to share their voices in a provocative and inspiring way.
Girl Museum Inc.