Corky Lee on My Mind (June 11—Sept. 18, 2021)
It's almost impossible to think of modern Asian American history without thinking of the legendary Corky Lee (1947–2021). He was there at every key moment for the last 50 years, from protests stemming from the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin to students demonstrating for ethnic studies in the 1990s to an epic gathering of his making of the descendents of Chinese railroad laborers in 2014.
He humorously referred to himself as the “undisputed unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate,” but that indeed he was. Making the invisible visible. Capturing moments both historic and everyday, political and personal. Combating injustice and wielding justice with every snap of his camera.
Corky started his photography career in 1971, the same year Pearl River was founded. He and the Chens were part of the same activist community centered around 22 Catherine Street, the building that housed both the pioneering collective Basement Workshop and the very first Pearl River Mart store. When we relaunched Pearl River in 2016, and created what is now the city’s only Asian American art gallery, Corky was of course there too. As one of our first artists-in-residence, his exhibition, “Chinese America on My Mind,” set the bar high for all those who followed. He set the tone for the gallery itself, which became a warm and inspiring hub for the many and varied perspectives, stories, and experiences of the Asian American community. He showed his support and enthusiasm for his fellow artists, inspiring, mentoring, and encouraging many friends to exhibit.
As we reopened our gallery, it seemed only fitting that Corky help us rebuild yet again. Curated by artist and friend Chee Wang Ng, photographer and longtime partner Karen Zhou, and Pearl River President and friend Joanne Kwong, this exhibition brought together 21 photographers — friends, colleagues, mentees — to pay homage to Corky’s philosophy of “photographic justice,” honor his work, and share pieces he would have loved.
Included in the exhibition were a tribute wall and table where friends, colleagues, admirers, and fans could share their personal memories of Corky. View the photos and notes. Read essays by:
- Liz OuYang, civil rights lawyer, educator, and activist
- Adriel Luis, Curator of Digital and Emerging Media, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
- Joanne Kwong, President, Pearl River Mart
We were so honored to welcome the artists and friends and family for a private reception on June 10. On June 12, we hosted an artist meet-and-greet for the general public. Follow us on Instagram or sign up for our newsletter to learn about possible future events.
- Documented: Corky Lee Remains on Chinatown's Mind
- NY1: Exhibit Highlights Local Asian-American Photographer
- The Village Sun: Corky Lee tribute show brings spirit of legendary lensman into focus
- World Journal (Video), June 16, 2021
- World Journal (Article), June 13, 2021
- Sing Tao Daily, June 11, 2021
- The Village Sun, June 4, 2021
Learn more about Corky Lee
- The New York Times: Corky Lee, Who Photographed Asian-American Life, Dies at 73
- The New Yorker: Corky Lee's Photographs Helped Generations of Asian-Americans See Themselves
- Vulture: Corky Lee 'Was Chinatown to Me'
- CNN Style: Corky Lee, legendary Asian American photographer, dies at 73
- Interview with Corky at Pearl River Mart for his exhibition, "Chinese America on My Mind"