DIA celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with virtual events

Erica Hobbs
Special to The Detroit News

Music, films, dancing and demonstrations from more than 10 different Asian countries will create a cultural experience during the Detroit Institute of Arts celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) that begins Saturday. 

The DIA is celebrating APAHM with a series of mostly free online events and activities. In partnership with the DIA’s auxiliary group, Friends of Asian Arts and Cultures (FAAC), the program includes more than 20 events, including films, music and dance performances, puppet shows, demonstrations, panel discussions and more. It features traditions from more than 10 different Asian cultures, including Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Mongolian, Taiwanese, Thai and Vietnamese.

The University of Michigan’s Revolution Chinese Yoyo team showcases a fusion of East and West through music and a juggling prop—the diabolo, the Western take on the ancient Chinese yo-yo.

“If you’re interested in the experiences of others and expanding your knowledge of the world, this is a good opportunity,” said DIA Family Programs coordinator Emily Boyer. 

Boyer organized the program with Sharon Dow, the DIA’s lead community partner and an FAAC board member.

The event launches at noon Saturday with an opening ceremony featuring remarks from DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons, Michigan Senator Stephanie Chang and Michigan Representative Padma Kuppa. It will be  followed by two dance performances, “A Journey with Minari” by Joori Jung, and “A Path of Lights” with J Amber Kao and Ciale Charfauros and a meditation guided by Charfauros. 

“It’s a phenomenal opening ceremony that’s very special in design,” Dow said. 

D. Shinmin Shyu will lead an interactive discussion on Taiwanese calligraphy.

Dow, who is also a member of the state’s Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, worked with Asian-American organizations across the region to develop the program. Boyer said the large variety of events reaches a range of interests. 

Dance enthusiasts can enjoy performances inspired by Korean traditions, including ArtLab J’s contemporary “East Meets West,” based on a traditional Korean tea ceremony. In “Artstronomic Program of Contemporary Dance and Cooking,” professional dancer and chef Isaac Lim explores his “Ān” – tranquility – through food and dance. 

“If you’re a fan of dance, there’s a lot,” Boyer said. “Some of it’s modern and contemporary, some is traditional, and some are a blend.”

Music-lovers can enjoy a range of both traditional and contemporary musical experiences. Performances highlight instruments including Japanese drums and Mongolia’s unique “morin khuur” – a two-stringed fiddle with a hollow trapezoid-shaped body attached to a long, fretless neck bearing a carved horse. 

Led by Jin Hi Kim, “Asian Sound Revolution – Pulse” features six musicians trained in instruments of their cultural heritage, while “East Meet West: Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival with a Motown Flair” highlights recording artist ZiZi and features traditional Chinese songs and Motown favorites with local musician The @Will Band.

Families can enjoy two puppet shows. The Yung Shing Le Shadow Puppet Troupe of Taiwan performs “Mountain of Flames,” an excerpt from the classic 16th-century Chinese novel “Journey to the West.” “Wimee’s Words Live - DIA Edition: Indian Shadow Puppets” features robot Wimee, who inspires kids to learn through creativity. The episode will focus on Indian Tholu bommalata shadow puppets, and viewers will be able to interact directly with Wimee through the chat options with audience suggestions to become a part of the show.

The Detroit Institute of Arts celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

While most events are free, the program does include film screenings that cost about $10-$12 to stream.

The celebration concludes May 29 with “Find It …Every Dream,” a collaborative closing performance that includes artists featured throughout month and draws attention to the metaphors and symbolism in the performances of regional arts and cultural organizations led by Asian/Pacific Islander-Americans.

“Our beautiful America is created by people from different parts of the world,” Dow said. “Honoring traditions and acclimating to a new country, is one of the challenges of life. If we choose to see the metaphors and symbolism of the cultures, we can begin to understand our commonalities and differences.” 

The program is a culmination of a steady expansion of DIA programming celebrating APAHM. It began in 2018, inspired by the re-opening of the museum’s Robert and Katherine Jacobs Asian Wing, which had been closed for restoration and expansion. Dow approached the DIA about doing an event to take part in nationwide celebrations.

The initial 2018 event consisted of an afternoon of cultural presentations and performances, including martial arts, dance, song and narration from countries including China, India, Japan, Thailand and more. The following year expanded to two afternoons over a weekend that added storytelling, as well as celebrations of Mongolian and Indonesian cultures, which Dow said are less well-known.

“Every year we try to bring in new cultures,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to get to know more about Asian cultures you don’t normally get to see.”

With the onset of the pandemic, 2020’s program went virtual. The one-day event featured an interview with renowned ceramicist and Kresge Eminent Artist Marie Woo. It also included a performance from Taiwan’s Formosa Circus Art and a video “look-back” compilation of previous DIA Asian programs. 

While this year’s program is still virtual, Boyer said she and Dow were eager to do as much as they possibly could. 

“We have a really wide range of things can view this month,” she said. “It’s definitely the biggest we’ve done in terms of scale.”

Boyer and Dow said they plan to continue to make APAHM an annual event, though the scope and scale is to be determined. Dow said it’s been a great collaborative effort.

“We hope it will become an annual program with bigger and wider influence,” Dow said. “The DIA along with the FAAC have given the best support for the program since day one. We all work together as a team.”

 DIA Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 

All programs are virtual, available on the DIA’s website. Live events can also be viewed through the DIA’s Facebook page

Saturday, May 1

•    Noon: Opening

o    Remarks from DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons, Michigan Senator Stephanie Chang, and Michigan Representative Padma Kuppa.

o    “A Journey with Minari” – Joori Jung performs a dance inspired by the film “Minari,” that follows a Korean-American family in search of the American Dream.

•    1 p.m.: “Lost Constellation”

o    Part 1: “A Path of Lights” – Dancers J Amber Kao and Ciale Charfauros explore interdependence, healing and connection, with a poem written and performed by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang and music score by Chien-An Yuan.

o    Part 2: “Singular Plural” - Charfauros leads a meditation of gender expression and persona. IS/LAND is a performance collaborative comprised of Asian American and Pacific Islander artists.

Thursday, May 6

•    1 p.m.: (Live) Thursdays “at” the Museum | Taiwanese Calligraphy with Dr. Shinming Shyu

o    Dr. Shyu leads an interactive demonstration on various styles of calligraphy.

•    7 p.m. “Evolution of Culture” | Revolution Chinese Yo-Yo

o    The University of Michigan’s Revolution Chinese Yoyo team showcases a fusion of East and West through music and a juggling prop—the diabolo, the Western take on the ancient Chinese yo-yo.

Friday, May 7

•    Ongoing through May 30: DFT@ Home: Streaming of “To the Ends of the Earth” 

o    Film follows Yoko, a Japanese reality TV star who travels with a small crew to Uzbekistan to shoot an episode of her show, in an experience that forces her to confront her deepest fears and hidden aspirations. Commissioned to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan.

o    In Japanese with English subtitles. Cost estimate: $10-$12.

•    7 p.m.: “Mongolian Melody: Mongolian Language – Mongolian Culture Concert Highlights”

o    This performance from the Morin Khuur Center in North America features the traditional Mongolian instrument, the “morin khuur,” a two-stringed fiddle with a hollow trapezoid-shaped body attached to a long, fretless neck bearing a carved horse head. 

Saturday, May 8

•    Noon: “Father's Land – Returning to the Ground” | Sea-Woon Kang

o    This three-part dance performance is inspired by the Korean belief that humans are born of the energy found in the ground, coming full circle living above ground during life, to return underground after life.

•    1 p.m.: “Mountain of Flames” | Yung Shing Le Shadow Puppet Troupe of Taiwan

o    This puppet performance is an excerpt from the classic 16th-century Chinese novel “Journey to the West.” Mischievous hero Monkey arrives with his group of disciples at a volcanic mountain that is too dangerous to pass, and it’s up to Monkey to figure out a plan.

Thursday, May 13

•    Ongoing through May 23: DFT@ Home: Streaming of “Edo Avant Garde”

o    Film is a revealing look at Japanese artists during the Edo period (1615–1868) with innovative approaches to painting that many in the West associate with “modern” 20th-century art. 

o    Cost estimate: $10-$12.

•    7 p.m.: Artist Demonstration: Hiroko Lancour

o    Local Japanese-born mixed-media artist Hiroko Lancour discusses her art and artistic processes, especially the influences of her background of East and West. 

Friday, May 14

•    7 p.m.: “Why We Drum だから太鼓を叩く” | Great Lakes Taiko Center: Raion Taiko & Godaiko Drummers

o    Rooted in Japanese music traditions, this collaborative 2019 performance features the large “odaiko” drum with the rhythmic beats from the “shime daiko” drum, while the taiko drummers dance in harmony hitting the drums using “bachi” sticks.

Saturday, May 15

•    Noon: “Maga Puja Day – Candlelight Procession” | Pong Lang Thai Dance Team of Michigan 

o    Presentation showcases the festivity of the candlelight procession ceremony of “Maga Puja Day,” a Buddhist festival honoring the third lunar month of the Buddhist calendar.

•    1 p.m.: “Our Kitchen: Vietnamese Cuisine – Pho and Coffee” | Chef Tommy Nguyen and the Vietnamese American Association of Michigan

o    Chef Tommy Nguyen and host Stephanie Tran teach viewers how to cook Vietnamese dish pho and “café da,” a traditional Vietnamese drink consisting of coffee, sweetened condensed milk and ice cubes in a glass or mug.

Thursday, May 20

•    6:30 p.m.: (Live) “Edo Avant-Garde: with Linda Hoaglund and Dr. Yukio Lippit”

o    A live discussion of the new documentary “Edo Avant Garde” with the film’s director Linda Hoaglund, and Dr. Yukio Lippit, Professor of Japanese Art at Harvard University.  

Friday, May 21

•    7 p.m.: “Asian Sound Revolution – Pulse” | Jin Hi Kim & Ensemble

o    Led by Jin Hi Kim with six musicians trained in instruments of their cultural heritage, this performance from the DIA’s reopening of the Asian galleries in 2018 preserves pan-Asian musical traditions to create contemporary performances rooted in tradition. 

Saturday, May 22

•    Noon: “East meet West: Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival with a Motown Flair” | Dragon Eagle TV

o    Cultural presentation highlights recording artist ZiZi and features traditional Chinese songs and Motown favorites with local musician The @Will Band.

•    1 p.m.: (Live) “Wimee’s Words Live - DIA Edition: Indian Shadow Puppets”

o    Live puppet show features robot Wimee, who inspires kids to learn through creativity. Episode will focus on Indian Tholu bommalata shadow puppets. Viewers will be able to interact directly with Wimee through the chat options with audience suggestions to become a part of the show.

Thursday, May 27

•    7 p.m.: (Live) “Tea Practices of China, Japan and Korea” featuring ArtLab J’s “East Meets West: Korean Tea Ceremony” 

o    Program features contemporary dance work inspired by darye (茶禮), a traditional Korean tea ceremony practiced among Korean people for a thousand years. It also includes a conversation comparing tea culture and practices found in China, Japan and Korea.

Friday, May 28

•    7 p.m.: “安 Ān - an Artstronomic Program of Contemporary Dance and Cooking” | Isaac Lim

o    Isaac Lim, professional dancer and chef, explores his sense of Ān through food and dance in Taiwan. 

Saturday, May 29

•    Noon: “Find It …Every Dream” | Closing Performance 

o    Collaborative performance includes artists featured throughout Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and draws attention to the metaphors and symbolism in the performances of regional arts and cultural organizations led by Asian/Pacific Islander-Americans.