Members of Chinatown Art Brigade and other protesters taking over the front room of James Cohan Gallery, which was transformed to appear like a poorly maintained Chinatown business. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

By Hrag Vartanian

On Sunday, October 15, dozens of protesters from the Chinatown Art Brigade (CAB) and other local art and anti-gentrification activist groups converged on James Cohan Gallery’s Chinatown location to object to what they are calling “racist art.” The allegation comes after Omer Fast’s new exhibition, August, constructed a caricature of a derelict Chinatown business that visitors walk through to see the artist’s video work in the backroom. In a letter they sent to the gallery roughly a week ago, CAB called the exhibition a “racist aggression towards the community of Chinatown,” and added “this show reifies racist narratives of uncleanliness, otherness and blight that have historically been projected onto Chinatown.” CAB is a cultural collective that “recognizes the power of art to advance social justice.”

 Protesters outside the transformed James Cohan Gallery

Protesters outside the transformed James Cohan Gallery

Protesters started their action at roughly 3pm EST in the gallery’s front room that included a broken air conditioner, folding chairs, a half-filled soda refrigerator, Chinese paper lanterns, vinyl tiles, a glass display case with cheap phone cases, two dirty-looking AtMs, cardboard boxes, and other objects that convey a sense of the space being a run-down Chinese-owned business.

Betty Yu, who is a co-founder of CAB, led the protest in the gallery first in Cantonese and then switched to English. “We are here today to call out the James Cohan Gallery and its racist show and treating Chinatown like poverty porn, and we are not … Omer Fast is not, doesn’t live here, doesn’t live in New York, and he comes in here and calls it a gesture to our community … this fake fabrication, spends tens of thousands of dollars to make this fake fabrication, it is usually a white box and this is how you treat us?” Yu continued as the audience recorded her words with cameras and smartphones. “This is how you depict Chinatown garbage? Linoleum floors all taped up with duct tape? Selling cell phones? Fan that is broken, chairs that are broken? Plastic bags that are attached to the door? … This is what you think of us?”