‘The Cardinal Club’ exhibition celebrates Asian stories, highlights VCU’s Asian community

“Brought to you by FDR circa 1942” by Sayaka Suzuki has multiple poster works around the first room of the Anderson Gallery. Photo by Lily Doshi

Jiana Smith, Staff Writer

George Kubo was a private man, even to his own family. A survivor of the Japanese internment camps in World War II, Kubo set aside his dreams of film school to become an accountant and live a quiet life in Detroit, Michigan, according to his granddaughter Bella Kubo.

When George Kubo died in 1998 and one-third of the attendants at his funeral turned out to be from “The Cardinal Club,” a semi-secret Japanese golf community of which he was a member, his family was surprised, Bella Kubo said.

“[The Cardinal Club] became this symbol for this community that wasn’t spoken of,” said Bella Kubo, a VCU kinetic imaging graduate student.

Inspired by 8 mm film footage shot by George Kubo of his fellow golf club members, Bella Kubo curated the exhibit, “The Cardinal Club,” which explores how narratives across the Asian diaspora affect one’s sense of self and sense of community.

“I want people to be aware of different Asian histories and narratives,” Bella Kubo said.

“The Cardinal Club” exhibition derives its name from the golf club in Detroit, which was composed of Japanese-American golfers, according to Bella Kubo. 

The exhibit also includes the works of nine other Asian Master of Fine Arts students and alumni, such as crafts and material studies alumna Sayaka Suzuki and photography and film alumna Cecilia Kim. Suzuki and Kim are also adjunct faculty at VCUarts. 

Bella Kubo said she wanted to use the exhibit to collaborate and create community with other Asian artists across disciplines.

“‘The Cardinal Club,’ I feel like, is this amazing project for me to collaborate, because that was something I’ve been wanting to do more of since coming to grad school,” Bella Kubo said. “So there’s this idea of networking being this exploration of place, identity and self.”

Bella Kubo said the collaboration felt particularly important due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 9,000 anti-Asian hate incidents have been reported, according to AP News. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism stated in a March 2021 fact sheet that anti-Asian hate crimes surged by 145% in large U.S. cities between 2019 and 2020.

“It’s been this large year of reflection,” Bella Kubo said. “I really felt like I needed and we all needed to have this space of community in our culture.”

The first piece viewed in the exhibition was done by Bella Kubo in collaboration with her grandfather. The piece takes the name of the exhibition, and consists of video clips of men of Japanese heritage playing golf. The sound alternates between golf commentary and War Relocation Authority director Milton Eisenhower’s description of the Japanese internment camps.

Bella Kubo said she wanted the contrasting commentaries to capture the viewer’s attention.

“I think with the sections of commentary, people might stop and be like, ‘What are they saying? Are they talking about internment?’” Bella Kubo said. “I wanted to have this be the entry point and get the gears turning.”

“Brought To You by FDR Circa 1942,” a series of framed prints by Suzuki, shows artwork by cartoonist Milton Caniff that attempts to teach viewers how to differentiate between Chinese and Japanese people. Caniff’s artwork was sponsored by the U.S. government during WWII, according to Suzuki.

Suzuki, who began conceptualizing the piece during the Donald Trump presidency, said she wanted the piece to highlight how “the idea of the other” begins in light of xenophobic rhetoric and hate crimes.

“The fact that it was government-sponsored otherness — like, isn’t that what just happened, what’s been happening in this country?” Suzuki said. “You could point and say, ‘That was 80 years ago.’ But not really; that just happened. That just happened five years ago.”

“Inherited Labor” by Kim explores the traditional values and gender expectations passed down between generations in South Korea.

The 17-minute piece features footage of Kim’s close and extended relatives discussing women’s positions in Korean society, as well as scenes of celebration and food preparation.

“I’ve always been interested in food and cooking and how that gets passed down through generations, and how it bridges human connections between people, between generations and the family,” Kim said. “So I was casually asking them questions while we were making food together.”

Kim said she was honored and glad to be part of the exhibition because it was a chance to display Asian heritages.

“I’m really glad Bella [Kubo] organized an Asian show, because I think it’s so rare to see so many Asian representatives, especially at VCU, in one place,” Kim said. “That’s been a great process to be included in.”

VCU art history graduate student and exhibit attendee Ajana Bradshaw said she enjoyed the exhibition.  

“I love the different mediums that are included, and how it highlights the different stories and experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander artists and curators,” Bradshaw said. “Since it’s coming from the direct community, it makes it all the more worthwhile to look at.”

Bella Kubo said she hopes attendees will be inspired to learn about more Asian history and have broader conversations about community at VCU.

“It was amazing too, at the opening, all of the conversations and feedback I’ve gotten about VCU as an institution,” Bella Kubo said. “Like, ‘How can this school be better to support people of color, marginalized communities, whether Asian or not?’ This needs to bring in a much larger conversation.”

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