As the past year of social distance has elucidated the value of community, it has also provoked creative ways of building connections and shared experiences. Asian Arts Initiative’s Center-funded Unity at the Initiative offers a number of ways to experience diverse representations of queer and trans BIPOC artists and skateboarding communities through both indoor and outdoor exhibitions, and from home.
At its core, the project is centered on the intersection of art, skateboarding, and queer identity in the visual work of artist Jeffrey Cheung. Cheung is co-founder of Unity, a press and skateboard company in Oakland, CA, that aims to support and celebrate queer and trans BIPOC creativity and community. Across five Philadelphia locations, the exhibitions feature Cheung’s work as well as the paintings, short films, wheatpastings, and other works from more than 25 Philadelphia area artists, including Pew Fellow Camae Ayewa, Golden Collier, Shanel Edwards, Jeremiah Jordon, Khari Johnson-Ricks, Malachi Lily, Icon Ebony-Fierce, Soleil Summer, and Wit López. Learn more about the participating artists on the AAI website.
Works are currently on view at Asian Arts Initiative’s building in Chinatown North, the Attic Youth Center and Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room (both in Center City) and Mina’s World and Making Worlds Bookstore (both in West Philadelphia) through May 31. Each location can be viewed from the outside, and all but the exhibition at the Attic Youth Center can be viewed from inside as well. Another exhibition is set to open at East Poplar Skate Park this summer. Sidewalks around Center City feature works curated by Cheung’s Unity Queer Skateboarding.
The Asian Arts Initiative location invites community participation in a skate room installed inside the building. Visitors are invited to wheatpaste or thumbtack their own posters and prints to the walls of the skate room and the adjacent recreation of Cheung’s Unity print studio. Anyone with a skateboard may book a private session to use the room’s ramps and rails. The exhibition can also be viewed from outside, as space inside is limited due to COVID restrictions.
AAI executive director Anne Ishii says that skateboarding—the culture around it as well as the physical experience itself—is an apt vessel for exploring and celebrating queer experience.
“The actual beauty of skateboarding is when you fall and somebody picks you up,” Ishii told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “That’s why the representation of the body is so important, because I think, especially with younger queer people, your first introduction to your gender or to your sexual orientation is through your very own body. When the queer folks coming into their identities can meet in public in a place like a park and hold each other, and feel each other’s bodies in a very safe, platonic, beautiful way, you know that that is a manifestation of the kinetic energy and art.”