The Moon Represents My Heart: Music, Memory and Belonging

When 2 May 2019 - 15 Sep 2019
Where Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
215 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
United States

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) announces its Spring/Summer 2019 exhibition The Moon Represents My Heart: Music, Memory and Belonging, on view from May 2 through September 15, 2019.

This groundbreaking exhibition will focus on the transformative power of music identity in immigrant Chinese communities from the 1850s to the present. During this period, disparate music genres converged with historic milestones, including changes in U.S. immigration legislation and China’s soft power emergence. The exhibition will delve into how Chinese immigrant communities have yearned for the ‘old country’, fashioned new American identities, or challenged stereotypes through their embrace of music forms as far-reaching as Cantonese opera, hip hop, Asian American Movement music, Taiwan love ballads, Canto-pop, western classical, karaoke, Beijing underground rock, and many other genres.

The exhibition is co-curated by Hua Hsu, staff writer at The New Yorker, and MOCA’s curatorial team: Herb Tam, Curator and Director of Exhibitions, and Andrew Rebatta, Associate Curator.

“Putting together this show was like making a mixtape. It’s full of echoes, resonances, connections across time and space, proud defiance and soft-neon sappiness,” says Hua Hsu, co-curator and staff writer at The New Yorker. “We knew it was impossible to tell some definitive story about music’s role in Chinese American life. Instead, we tried to mix together as much of it as we could, from the epic performers to everyday fandom. It’s about what happens when sounds cross borders or beckon you home.”

Although music has been an important facet of the Chinese experience in America since the Hong Took Tong Cantonese opera troupe performed in San Francisco in 1852, the contributions of Chinese and Asian Americans have gone largely unnoticed to mainstream listeners. The Moon Represents My Heart will highlight the work of over 50 notable singers, performers, musicians and organizations such as Peking opera star Mei Lanfang, rapper MC Jin, Cantonese opera group Chinese Music and Theatre Association, pop singer Teresa Teng, hip hop producer David Eng, experimental sound artists C. Spencer Yehand Charmaine Lee, Broadway actor and Chinese folk singer Stephen ChengWinnie’s karaoke bar, the Chinatown singing group The Fortune Cookies, and many others.

“Beyond just defining Chinese music, the exhibition will prompt visitors to ask: How does music reflect who I am?” says Herb Tam, Curator and Director of Exhibitions. “By doing so, it will make the case that music has played a foundational role in immigrant culture.”

The exhibition will connect diverse musical forms in ways that break from conventional genre categorizations and historical timelines. Is there shared DNA between Cantonese opera and Asian American hip hop? Why did a generation of Asian Americans find solace in English new wave bands, such as Erasure and Depeche Mode? By free associating with the typical way music is organized, we hope the exhibition will prompt visitors to explore how music, memory and belonging are connected.

“Music genres such as Cantonese opera and mid-90s pop music from Taiwan are ostensibly removed from one another, but further inquiry shows us that aspects of Chinese culture and tradition are a common thread,” said Nancy Yao Maasbach, President of the Museum of Chinese in America. “This exhibition touches upon themes of community and spirituality, longing and belonging, appropriation and appreciation. We are so grateful to the artists, advisors, and generous supporters who have made this exhibition possible.”

Stories will be told within a dynamic presentation of event flyers and posters, performance documentation and artist notebooks, music listening stations and contemporary art, magazine and album cover art, and liner notes and manifestos. These materials, presented on and around an enclosed central stage, will immerse visitors in a discussion of immigrant music, memory and identity, and will be a dramatic backdrop for nighttime karaoke sing-alongs and musical performances.

In conjunction with The Moon Represents My Heart, MOCA will offer a dynamic program calendar throughout the spring and summer of 2019. MOCA’s free monthly Music + Mic Nights featuring emerging talent from the community will be staged within the exhibition, activating the archival and documentary materials with live music. In addition, new programming will feature themed karaoke nights, traditional Chinese music ensemble performances, classical Western music showcases, DJ-led listening sessions, and experimental music performances.

Limited edition merchandise and product tie-ins related to the exhibition will be sold at the Museum’s newly relaunched store called MOCA Shop by Pearl River, a unique retail experience launched in January 2019 that celebrates art, history, identity and community in partnership with family-owned Asian emporium Pearl River Mart.

The exhibition is supported with research by Yuli Cheng, MOCA’s curatorial intern. It is advised by Henry ChangNancy BulalacaoAlexander LauEva Lerner-LamSu ZhengTaiyo Na, and Yuanyuan Yang.

About the Guest Curator
Hua Hsu is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific(Harvard University Press, 2016.) He is also an associate professor of English and director of the American Studies program at Vassar College. He is a board member for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and a fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University.

Image courtesy of the organizer.

For more information please click here.