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Chinatown Map, by Jihyun Park

Pink sticks of incense assembled into a 3-D map of Chinatown is on display at the Asian Arts Initiative until about mid-March. It’s on loan from the artist, Jihyun Park, one of the participants in Chinatown In/Flux, a now-concluded community arts project organized by AAI and featuring installations by seven Asian American artists in and around Philadelphia’s Chinatown.

The piece is cross shaped, the horizontal bar being the Vine Street Expressway, which has cuts through Chinatown and long blocked the spread of Chinatown northward.

Among the charms of the piece are the swoop of the Reading Viaduct cutting through the urban grid, and the two tones of what looks like a zillion sticks of pink incense.

Park created this map as an afterthought for Chinatown In/Flux in addition to his main piece Chicken Broccoli, a series of ceramic broccoli bonsais with chicken perched atop, displayed in the window of a Chinatown business. Chicken Broccoli salutes and mocks all at once the cheap ceramics mass produced in China for export around the world. At the same time he mocks the commodification of Chinese culture and also mocks our American confusion of the various Asian cultures.

Park’s Chicken Broccoli tshirt

Speaking of merchandising, the catalog for Chinatown In/Flux is now available, and Park himself has created a nice Chicken Brocolli t-shirt, not being a bit above commodifying his own work. Both are for sale, of course, $20 for the t and $15 for the catalog ($12 for AAI members).

Park also has a New York City incense map–gold incense, of course–scheduled for exhibit at Art in General in New York in April.

Rickshaw NYC, by Nitin Mukul

And speaking of New York City, a painting by New York artist Nitin Mukul of a rickshaw in New York City (yes, there really are bicycle-drawn ones, these days) amid piles of tires and advertising signs with a third-world, homemade look, was a highlight of his small exhibit at AAI of paintings and video, now on display. I also liked the shelter drill (we who dropped the bomb on Asia teaching our children what position to die in should Asia return the favor), and a triptych, Want Some Candy, of three men wearing Indian masks. The faces are photographic prints, but the cerulean sky is painted on, pulling the masks out of context and turning them into something menacing and leering. This is the transformation of the gods of Indian culture into the feared other of our national xenophobia.

a detail from Mukul’s Want Some Candy triptych

Most of Mukul’s work is based on photocollages, and like so many photocollages, sometimes they work, sometimes not. But when he’s good, he’s terrific. His resume includes a list of interesting New York area shows, including “Fatal Love” in 2005 at the Queens Museum of Art. He was also a Sol LeWitt execution team member in 2004.