Active Cultures Night with Eliot and Gotham

Guests braved the rain, hail, snow and freezing weather to make it to our Active Cultures event on Friday night. While the weather was frightful outside, the auditorium was cozy and beautifully decorated for the evening. Guests enjoyed the free hors d’oeuvres and cash bar while waiting for the speakers to begin.

Eliot Kiang, our first speaker, focused on the prevalence of Mao’s image in contemporary Chinese art. What is it about him that makes him such a figure of study for so many Chinese artists, especially since he is seen as villain by so many people? The talk focused on how Mao has become an icon in modern Chinese society.  Eliot discussed how the Chinese government has encouraged and perpetuated Mao’s image as a symbol of China. He also shared many images of works by contemporary Chinese artists who use Mao’s image to convey the message of their individual works. Some artists create new interpretations of Mao’s image, some artists use Mao to represent China and Chinese society as a whole, and some artists examine the Mao myth itself, demystifying the legend that is Mao.

Gotham Chopra’s presentation focused on a documentary film he is currently directing and producing entitled Soul’d Out which focuses on his father Deepak Chopra. Gotham screened some of the footage, shot several months ago in Thailand where Deepak went through a process of being ordained as a monk per the Thai tradition. The material showcased a more intimate and vulnerable side of Deepak that few have seen as he has increasingly risen to represent a spiritual conversion that we seem to be undergoing.  This was the first public screening of any of the film’s footage, and judging by audience reaction the complete film should be a big hit.  We certainly look forward to screening it at the museum!

Eliot then joined Gotham on the stage for a most riveting discussion regarding some of their intersecting themes. Several audience members brought up questions about the concept of the father figure and how that theme is portrayed in art or in film.  Questions about whether these artistic interpretations of Mao were censored by the government (yes, in a few cases) led to a larger discussion of whether personal growth through spiritual teachings such as Deepak’s can help improve society as a whole.

The audience was excited to hear about the fabulous line-up of speakers for the Active Cultures finale on March 25 with Joe Rhode, Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering who will discuss the creation of the thrill ride “Expedition Everest”…An attraction, while ostensibly a thrill ride, conveys such a convincing and detailed portrayal of Himalayan culture that it has been used as an educational tool for the real Nepal. Our other speakers will be Ewan Chung and Charles Kim who are co-producers and performers in the award-winning sketch comedy troupe OPM (Opening People’s Minds). They will discuss sketch comedy as a tool for storytelling and political activism, as well as their thoughts on the role of Asian-American artists vis-a-vis mainstream media.

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