TU’s Asian Arts & Culture Center marks 50th anniversary with virtual programming

By Rebecca Kirkman on February 15, 2021

Year-long celebration highlights Asian American and Pacific Islander voices

Artist Lek Borja portrait on left with detail of painting depicting people gathering around food on right
Artist Lek Vercauteren Borja with a detail from her work “Personalia 1,” part of the Asian Arts & Culture Center virtual exhibition “Anak (My Child).”

This year Towson University’s Asian Arts & Culture Center (AA&CC) celebrates its 50th anniversary. 

Programming kicked off with “ElevAsian: Honoring AAPI Experiences,” a collection of exhibitions and virtual events featuring Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists and culture and culminates with the virtual festival “Asia North 2021: A Celebration of Art, Culture & Community.”

The theme brings together the breadth and diversity of Asian American and Pacific Islander voices, with a special focus on local artists. 

“Looking at everything that we have done for the last 50 years and everywhere that we want to go in the next 50, we came up with this theme,” explains Joanna Pecore, director of the Asian Arts & Culture Center at TU. “We really wanted to showcase diversity in the community.”

ElevAsian programming began with the online exhibition “Anak (My Child),” in which Lek Vercauteren Borja explored the personal and social impact of Spanish colonization and American imperialism on the Filipino experience through mixed media works. 

After previously showing her work in the center’s 2018 “Asia in Maryland” exhibition, Vercauteren Borja, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines at 10 years old, returned to more deeply explore the Filipino American experience in a solo show.

“A lot of Filipino themes and Filipino American experiences are just now being brought into the forefront in the conversation of what it is to be American and who we are in America,” says Nerissa Paglinauan, AA&CC program manager. “The Philippines has a long history of being colonized, first by the Spanish and then by the U.S. It’s a very complicated history, which is what a lot of her artwork will address.”

Dive deeper into Filipino culture over food on Feb. 26 with “Salu-Salo: A Filipino American Cultural Feast.” The virtual fundraiser explores modern takes on traditional Filipino culture including food, clothing and music. 

Salu-salo means coming together over food in Tagalog, explains Paglinauan, who is Filipino American. “I wanted to make it a celebration of Filipino culture in general. And a huge focus that tends to bring everybody together is food.”

Attendees will hear from chefs Sony Florendo, founder of the first Filipino fine dining restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland native Mike Ledesma of Perch in Richmond, Va., and Rey Eugenio of Heritage Kitchen in Baltimore’s Whitehall Mill. The event also includes a virtual tour of ANTHILL Fabric Gallery in the Philippines and music by Kulintronica and Diwa de Leon, who electrify traditional Filipino instruments.

The Asian Arts & Culture Center opened in 1971 at then-Towson State University with a gift of Chinese and Japanese ivory carvings by local business owner Frank Roberts. 

At that time, the College of Fine Arts & Communication established a collection of Asian art, created the Asian arts gallery and began to offer related educational programs, including festivals, performances, artist residencies and lectures. These activities were especially valued at a time when the United States was immersed in conflict in Southeast Asia.

The center was originally located on the fifth floor of the Albert S. Cook Library until the opening of the new Fine Arts Building in November 1973. 

In 1975, the center expanded its programming beyond campus with the Asiavan program, which transported exhibits to area schools, playgrounds, shopping centers and parks. The van also included film screenings and audio recordings of traditional and contemporary Asian music.

The center moved to its current 1,500-square-foot gallery in 2005 after the renovation of the Center for the Arts. The center continues to serve the university and greater Baltimore-Washington community through a range of experiences with Asian arts and culture.

“Everything we do is about creating a family and bringing people together,” says Pecore of the center’s work with local artists. Bringing them back to exhibit and connecting artists with local partners help to “expand and deepen the connections.”

This, Pecore says, is at the heart of the center’s vision for the future. 

“We've been talking about how we're going to celebrate 50 years, and lots of people always want to look back, which is awesome to see where we came from,” Pecore says. “But we want to highlight where we're going.”

Spring 2021 Virtual Programs

“Anak (My Child)”

Lek Vercauteren Borja’s mixed media works explore the personal and social impact of Spanish colonization and American imperialism on the Filipino experience. Vercauteren Borja weaves history with personal experience to draw out broader contemporary Filipino American stories of identity, displacement, trauma, survival, resilience and belonging.

Phaan Howng: A Bag of Rocks for A Bag of Rice

Extended through May 15
Westernized images of the Chinese and Japanese garden camouflage the histories of empire, wealth, privilege, exploitation, ecological extraction and displacement behind their creation. Phaan Howng’s site-specific installation engages East Asian gardens as a case study of the dynamics embedded within these private spaces.

Salu-Salo: A Filipino American Cultural Feast

Feb. 26, 7 p.m.
Prepare yourself a Filipino meal and join the AA&CC for a virtual salu-salo featuring chefs Sony Florendo, Mike Ledesma and Rey Eugenio’s takes on favorite Filipino recipes; music by Kulintronica and Diwa de Leon, who have creatively electrified traditional Filipino instruments; a virtual tour with ANTHILL Fabric Gallery in the Philippines; and an Asian Arts & Culture Center 50th Anniversary cocktail.

Filipino American Diaspora: Self-Representations Emerging from the Shadows

March 9, 7 p.m.
How do poetry, art, oral histories and research convey the complicated histories of Filipino Americans, the fourth largest migrant group in the United States? With over 400 years of colonization, Philippine migrants continue to create a sense of the homeland in their new countries. Hear from poet Luisa A. Igloria, artist Lek Vercauteren Borja and authors E.J.R. David and Dwight Ong. Scholar and artist Marlo DeLara moderates the discussion.

Asia North 2021: A Celebration of Art, Culture & Community

April 10 to May 15, Station North Arts District and online
Celebrate art, culture and the Korean history and heritage of Baltimore’s Charles North community. Regional Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists and organizations create an exhibit and virtual festival including artist talks, performances, cooking demonstrations and art workshops. Co-presented with the Central Baltimore Partnership.

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