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Chinatown North’s Asian Arts Initiative, a Knight Arts Grantee, has a lot going on this month. With a newly opened show about censorship and power entitled “Shut Your Trap!!: A Study on Authority in Art,” the soon-to-open Visual Artists Network (VAN) group exhibition and the Chinatown North Arts Crawl from 6-9 p.m. this Friday, December 14, there is plenty to see at Asian Arts Initiative even before the new year.

Theodore A. Harris, "Facts on the Ground."

Theodore A. Harris, “Facts on the Ground.”

Currently on display in the second floor Studio B, “Shut Your Trap!” is a montage of work by a number of artists which act as ruminations on the ideas power relationships and free speech. The show is curated by Theodore A. Harris in collaboration with the Institute for Advanced Study in Black Aesthetics. Harris confronts the topic with his “Facts on the Ground” series which depicts images of mousetraps shut onto a variety of socially and politically charged ephemera. Books of stamps, patriotic matchbooks and a photo of Maclom X lie snapped in the devices, which help give the show its dual name – trap of course referencing those for mice but also acting as a double entendre for someone’s mouth.

Hanging and "removed" artwork from the "Censored" series by Kien Nguyen.

Hanging and ‘removed’ artwork from the “Censored” series by Kien Nguyen.

Elsewhere Kien Nguyen paints striking portraits of men with various parts of their faces obscured, playing off the idea of censorship or the social pressures to remain silent on a variety of issues (although he leaves the interpretation open-ended). Some of the individual’s portraits are darkened or covered in some way, including one with blocky, multicolored bars crisscrossing his lips: a universal symbol of silence or censorship. One of the paintings even sits on the floor, partially wrapped and unhung as if it were excluded from the show.

Photos from "Cleaning the Mansion" and "Black Steel Flesh" sculpture by Keir Johnston & Ernel Martinez.

Photos from “Cleaning the Mansion” and “Black Steel Flesh” sculpture by Keir Johnston & Ernel Martinez.

Keir Johnston and Ernel Martinez showcase photos from a performance piece and a gigantic, rusty sculpture riddled with railroad spikes. In the photographs, two anonymous individuals pull ropes tied to a cattle yoke and in another lie, face down, on railroad tracks. The images and the monolithic form before them are a direct reference to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad which utilized massive droves of Asian and African American workers in dangerous conditions, after which they received little to no credit for their back-breaking efforts.

Also in the exhibit are a number of surreal collages by Glynnis Reed and a series of prints by Manuel Acevedo. These prints twist and explode with blocks of graffiti-like text hanging above groups of soldiers in World War I-era helmets. The ability of troops to criticize or speak out against their superiors is often squelched, oftentimes leaving them in a relatively voiceless position of subservience.

Installation of work by Leticia Bajuyo for Friday's opening.

Installation of work by Leticia Bajuyo for Friday’s opening.

This Friday, December 14 at 6 p.m. is the opening of the first floor gallery’s VAN show by artists Leticia Bajuyo, Colette Fu, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, and Benjamin Volta with music by the Pagode Project. The space is right now being filled with artwork including a massive, tubular installation of discarded CDs by Bajuyo entitled “Event Horizon.” Don’t forget to stick around after the opening for the North Chinatown Arts Crawl which will lead attendees to the neighborhood’s amazing art locales such as Space 1026, the Fabric Workshop and Vox Populi.

Asian Arts Initiative is located at 1219 Vine St., Philadelphia; info@asianartsinitiative.org; asianartsinitiative.org.

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