Celebrate Contemporary Asian American Artists By Exploring UMMA’s Collection

The month of May is Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month.

UMMA has an extensive collection of art from Japan, China, and Korea, particularly of centuries-old pottery and textiles. But, we wanted to use this occasion to focus on the accomplishments of more contemporary Asian-American artists in our collection. We’ve highlighted a few below, along with a larger slideshow of works you can explore to celebrate the work of these talented artists.  


Dinh Q. Lê, “Interconfined,” 1994, chromogenic prints and linen tape. UMMA, Museum purchase made possible by the University of Michigan Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Director's Acquisition Committee, 2018, 2018/2.89

Dinh Q. Lê (born 1968) moved to Los Angeles from Vietnam as a child. Though he studied fine art photography, many of his pieces--including this one--are created by a unique method of cutting photographs into strips and weaving them together. In this one, he depicts an unidentified man standing in between a Buddhist statue and a Christ-like figure. The way that the strips are woven, it almost looks as if he is linking arms with them. This piece is featured in UMMA’s Collection Ensemble exhibition, as well as track #2 of the Sites & Sounds project.


David Diao, “Untitled,” 1968, acrylic on canvas. UMMA, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph A. Gosman, 1978/2.22

David Diao (born 1963) spent his childhood in China and Hong Kong before settling in New York. In his twenties, while trying to support himself as an artist, he got a job as a janitor at a gallery that specialized in abstract paintings. Diao later worked in abstraction himself; this painting was on display in UMMA’s recent exhibition Abstraction, Color, and Politics: The 1960s and 70s. Diao painted it very early in his career, and like many of his other paintings, it is untitled.

Sultana's Dream

Chitra Ganesh, “Sultana's Dream: A Graphic Novel of Twenty-Seven Linocut Prints (5 of 27),” 2018, linocut on paper. UMMA, Museum purchase made possible by the University of Michigan Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the Director's Acquisition Committee, 2019, 2019/2.93.5

Chitra Ganesh (born 1975) grew up with Indian immigrant parents in New York City, and works in a variety of media (including murals, charcoal drawings, and digital collages). This piece is one of 27 illustrations based on the 1905 feminist science fiction novel Sultana’s Dream, and the series is UMMA’s first acquisition by a contemporary female artist of South Asian heritage. All 27 works are linocuts, meaning that Ganesh carved the designs into pieces of linoleum, applied ink, and then stamped them on paper. They all feature various elements of Hindu and Buddhist iconography.

Seated Nude

Isamu Noguchi, “Seated Nude,” 20th century, graphite and black crayon on Japanese rice paper. UMMA, Museum Purchase, 1948/1.327

Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988), born in Los Angeles to a Japanese father and white American mother, was best known for his sculptures and furniture design. His style is often described as “biomorphism,” where the slopes and lines of the carved stone mimic organic forms, such as the shape of a flower petal or human shoulder. UMMA has a large collection of his drawings, almost all of which are nude figure drawings. Noguchi is also remembered as a political activist; in 1942 he voluntarily joined a Japanese internment camp in Arizona, despite being exempt as a New York resident, in the hopes that he could start an arts program for the internees.

Japanese Children's Day Carp Banners...

Patrick Nagatani, “Japanese Children's Day Carp Banners, Paguate Village, Jackpile Mine Uranium Tailings, Laguna Pueblo Reservation, New Mexico,” 1990, dye destruction print on paper. UMMA, Gift of Beverly Baker in memory of Morris D. Baker, 2004/1.106

Patrick Nagatani (1945-2017), born to Japanese parents, grew up in Chicago and Los Angeles. UMMA exhibited a series of his photographs in Proof: The Ryoichi Excavations, where he staged an archaeological dig at the site of a fictional civilization. This image, however, was from the series “Nuclear Enchantment,” where he hoped to bring to attention the devastating effects of nuclear energy and weaponry. The image contrasts the Hiroshige print of the carp (a Japanese symbol for luck, prosperity, and youth, associated with Japanese Children’s Day) with a cemetery at the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, which was contaminated by uranium mining.

Explore More Art from Contemporary Asian American Artists

Nikki S. Lee, "Paris #206," Lambda print on aluminum, Gift of the Kammi and Brad Reiss Family, 2014/2.245