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  • Jun 02, 2021

US Billboard Campaign Protests Violence Against AAPI Communities

Past-Present (2021) by artist TAIJI TERASAKI has been installed in Atlanta, Georgia, as part of the billboard campaign launched by For Freedoms, in partnership with Orange Barrel Media. Photo by Connie Huang and Jonathan Fan. Courtesy For Freedoms.

Following a wave of violent acts against members of the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in the United States, the artist-led group For Freedoms is mounting a nationwide series of 40 billboards designed by AAPI artists. The rapid-response public-art campaign decries anti-AAPI hate, which has escalated dramatically in the US since the Covid-19 pandemic began and intensified further in the early months of 2021.

For Freedoms’ latest campaign, curated by the collective’s co-founder Michelle Woo and muralist Erin Yoshi, enlisted the support of digital technologist JiaJia Fei to invite artists to create a patchwork of images of solidarity dotted across American cities. Speaking to AAP, Michelle Woo stated, “This campaign is part of a much broader mandate that will include public programs and educational advocacy.”

Responding to one of the most atrocious attacks this year, the fatal shooting of eight people at three Atlanta area spas, Hawaii-based artist Taiji Terasaki created Past-Present (2021), a digital lenticular billboard that drew from historical events from the collective memory of 20th and 21st century Asian American history. The word “PAST” runs alongside a black-and-white photo of three Japanese boys standing behind a barbed-wire fence—a stark reminder of the Japanese American internment camps during the early 1940s. This is juxtaposed with a contemporary image of peaceful protestors participating at a vigil, accompanied by the word “PRESENT.”

For Freedoms was established in 2016 by Woo, conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, and photographers Eric Gottesman and Wyatt Gallery as a platform for civic engagement and raising marginal voices. In 2020 the group launched Awakening, a billboard series on social justice themes with contributions from 85 global artists shown in all 50 US states. The visual cultural medium employed by For Freedoms leverages the billboard’s physical visibility along highways and in urban settings, and uses the language of advertising synonymous with American consumerism.

Sara Raza is the Central and West Asia desk editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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