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Indepth Arts News:

"On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience"
2000-07-23 until 2000-10-29
Autry Museum of Western Heritage
Los Angeles, CA, USA United States of America

The story of Chinese Americans in the West is one of the most dramatic and compelling in our entire Western heritage. The Autry Museum has developed an exceptional exhibition - the largest of its kind - exploring the history of the Chinese in America from the 1790s to the present. On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience, based on the acclaimed book by Lisa See, will run from July 23 through January 1, 2001. There will be numerous cultural and theater events celebrating the accomplishments of Chinese Americans in conjunction with the exhibition.

Lisa Sees book On Gold Mountain explores six generations of a Chinese American family who originally immigrated to California in 1867, then lived and worked in Los Angeles from 1897 to the present. The On Gold Mountain exhibition links this family story to the larger history of Los Angeless Chinatown and the history of Chinese Americans in the United States. The exhibition will personalize the history of Chinese immigration and make it meaningful to a broad audience. Although specific to the experience of Chinese Americans, themes underpinning On Gold Mountain are universal. All immigrants to America face similar challenges: choosing between the old world and the new, maintaining culture and language, and holding on to traditions while responding to the demands of assimilation.

Utilizing objects and materials from over 50 local and national collections, the exhibition will examine the events and influences surrounding Chinese immigration in California and the United States, and the circumstances that transformed the Chinese in America into Chinese Americans. In addition, it will provide a detailed look at the evolution of Los Angeless Chinatown and explore many of the issues that continue to face Chinese Americans today. Sandy Lydon - scholar of Asian history, professor of Asian American studies, and a consultant to the exhibition - believes On Gold Mountain will be the most important exhibit ever mounted in the United States focused specifically on the history of the Chinese in America.

Design elements incorporated into each gallery will re-create authentic environments encountered by Chinese immigrants. As visitors enter the exhibition they will experience the difficult conditions under which Chinese traveled to America not only through photographs, objects, and documents, but also through the re-created environment of a trans-Pacific steamship. Audio components will be used in four of the eight galleries, providing information and nuances otherwise missed through visual and literary means. In another gallery, a video installation will explore stereotypes of Chinese people in popular films. Toward the end of the exhibition, an area devoted to genealogy will illustrate methods used by Lisa See to uncover her own family history and introduce visitors to resources with which they may begin their own exploration of personal heritage and community history no matter what their background.

To further enhance a visitors sense of history and environment, in-gallery guides will take the form of baskets that were used by Chinese immigrants to carry their worldly possessions across the ocean. These baskets will be filled with replica objects and suggested activities to assist families in interpreting the exhibition. Elements from the baskets will also be linked to markers within the galleries, creating interactive education areas. These Exploration Guides, otherwise known as Gum Saan Baskets, will be available for visitors to check out at the beginning of the exhibition.

This exhibition has been made possible through the generous support of Bank of America, with additional support from The California Arts Council, a State Agency. I want to especially thank Liam McGee and Bank of America for their generous support of this exhibition. Bank of America has made a significant commitment to supporting education and culture in the community and has enormously enriched the quality of life for all of us in Southern California, says Autry Museum CEO John Gray.

On Gold Mountain is rooted in the Autry Museums commitment to acknowledge and critically examine the diverse communities that have contributed to the shaping of the American West. It will build upon the museums other work in this area, including the exhibitions Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America; Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945; The Mask of Zorro: Mexican Americans in Popular Media, and Strength and Diversity: Japanese American Women 1885-1990.

Home altar to honor ancestors, 1990s.
Photo courtesy of Leslee Leong.

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