East Meets West in San Francisco

First-year seminar explores the legacy of Asian art and culture in SF

By ANGELA MARIA TING, USF NEWS Posted Wed, 04/11/2018 - 10:40

From seeing ancient bronze Buddhas at San Francisco's world-class Asian Art Museum to participating in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in North Beach, students in Professor Karen Fraser’s Exploring Asian Art in SF first-year seminar get a unique and intimate look into San Francisco’s diverse community.

USF News asked Fraser to tell us more about the course.

What's the Asian Art in San Francisco seminar?

The seminar introduces students to both USF and San Francisco, and to various resources and sites connected to Asian art and culture.

We take several field trips to see things like the architecture of Chinatown and Filipino and Korean art. And students get some particularly unique opportunities, such as a private Japanese print viewing at the Legion of Honor. This way, students experience art rather than just looking at images in a book.

We also delve into topics like the historical depictions of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, and the racism Asian immigrants encountered in San Francisco.

What makes San Francisco an ideal place for this seminar?

San Francisco is a gateway to the Asia Pacific region and has a long history of Asian culture. The arrival of both Japanese and Chinese immigrants to San Francisco dates back to the mid-19th century, connecting directly to the Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad that brought settlers west and led to the growth of San Francisco.

How can students learn about Asian art and culture on campus?

One place is the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History, where students are able to handle works of art — some of them hundreds of years old.

There are also events, speakers, and exhibits on campus. Last semester, the Thacher Gallery exhibited Something From Nothing: Art and Handcrafted Objects From America's Concentration Camps, which highlighted the experience of Japanese Americans subjected to Executive Order 9066 during World War II. This semester, another Asian-themed exhibition on modern and contemporary Indian art was at Thacher Gallery.

What do students take away from the seminar?

I hope that they come away with an understanding of the diversity of historical and contemporary art forms found in Asia as well as a greater awareness of the idea of institutional power. The way that large and influential institutions like the Asian Art Museum frame their exhibitions and programming is very important and has the power to shape public perception of outside cultures.