Corky Lee on My Mind: Tomie Arai
1982 No Jail! - 2018 No Jail! (Diptych) (2021, NYC)
"These photos are from a Town Hall held at PS 124 in 2018, to roll out the Mayor’s plans for the construction of a new jail in Chinatown. Corky was strongly opposed to de Blasio’s Borough Wide Jail Plan and he distributed dozens of copies of this black and white photo to the people who attended the Town Hall and asked them to hold the photos up in protest. Corky’s handwriting on the bottom of the photo was his way of declaring that when over 12,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Chinatown in 1984, he was there too. He had documented Chinatown activism for decades and this was one issue he was clearly passionate about.
“The color photo is a still from a video I took of the crowd. He turned to look at me just as I began filming. It’s hard to accept that he is really gone. I think we just took it for granted that he would always be there, taking pictures of our demonstrations and our Town Halls, our celebrations and our sadness. He would always be in the frame, enjoying the moment and watching over us."
Tomie Arai is a public artist who works with local communities to create visual narratives that give meaning to the spaces we live in. Arai has designed both temporary and permanent public works of art for Creative Time, the Smithsonian Institution, the US General Services Administration Art in Architecture Program, the NYC PerCent for Art Program, the MTA Arts for Transit Program, The National Endowment, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. She is the co-founder of the Chinatown Art Brigade (CAB), an Asian diasporic cultural collective that centers art and culture as a way to support community-led campaigns to fight displacement. The CAB exhibited in Pearl River's art gallery in 2017.
Arai is currently a 2020 Transnational Fellow with Monument Lab, an initiative that reimagines public space through stories of social justice and equity. In 2020, she helped to launch A/P/A Voices: A Covid-19 Public Memory Project, a collaboration with NYU’s A/P/A Institute and the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives of the Tamiment Library.