After a year’s hiatus because of we-all-know-what, APAture (Sat/23-November 14), Kearny Street Workshop’s festival, returns this year with 36 emerging Asian and Pacific American artists in music, film, performance, literature, and visual arts.
Organizers decided on “Embrace” for this festival’s theme. As with why the festival didn’t happen last year, the reason for that particular focus may seem obvious.
Sheri Park, an interdisciplinary artist who volunteered on the festival’s planning committee, said they started talking in May about what art means, the rising awareness of anti-Asian violence, frustration with surface level conversations and commitments, and the need for closeness—and how that can be difficult with people isolating themselves for health reasons. “Embrace” came out of those conversations. How the artists choose to interpret that is open.
Park appreciates the quality of the events Kearny Street Workshop, founded in 1972, puts on, its long presence in the community, and how it offers a place to make connections. APAture is something special, she thinks.
“It’s made for the community by the community, and I’ve felt the warmth and connection volunteering with them,” she said. “It’s not only for AAPI, but for everyone to show support in a longer-term way. It can be hard for emerging artists to get anyone to showcase their work.”
The festival includes limited in-person events as well as virtual ones. It features artists in several disciplines—dancer Johnny Huy Nguyen; Mild Monk, a project of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Harry Stein; filmmaker Edward Gunawan; artist and researcher Erina C. Alejo; and poet Monica Sok.
Sok, a Khmer poet who grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, moved to the Bay Area a few years ago for the prestigious Wallace Stegner fellowship at Stanford University. She’s the author of A Nail the Evening Hangs On, and she has taught poetry to Southeast Asian youths at the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants in Oakland.
She thinks growing up in the small town in Amish Country affected her writing.
“Our neighborhood was always surrounded by corn fields, and there was so much space and things growing, and produce stands, and signs saying, ‘Kittens for sale,’ or ‘Free Bunnies,’” she said. “I didn’t find a large Khmer community, but I felt like the world was open to me with the lush landscape of trees and the fields and horses and buggies. I think this small-town life required me to dream some more, and that’s something I’m still kind of working through in my poetry.”
Being new to the Bay Area, Kearny Street Workshop was important for her, Sok says. “I really love that space and the community they’ve built. It’s enriching for me.”
Since her family is on the East Coast, Sok says she has felt isolated during this time, and grateful for her poetry. She says she’s glad to have been asked to participate and to think about the theme, Embrace.
“I’ve experienced a lot of loss and a ton of grief this past year and a half,” she said. “This asks us to connect after a time of isolation and when we’re continuing to mourn. I really love it because I think it acknowledges the pain we’ve had to endure.”
Sok plans to read some of the poems in her 2020 book, as well as some she’s written over the pandemic.
“In my own poetry, I’m learning how to name what we’ve been through, and poetry allows me to connect with people even though I haven’t been able to touch them,” she said. “I’ve had to rely on words and videos and Zoom as I’m mourning through grief.”
Sok will be reading at the Arc Gallery in person on November 4. She says she’s looking forward to going to some of the other events, like the opening and closing parties, and to seeing Mild Monk and Nguyen perform.
“Everyone is so talented,” she said. “I’m excited to be with these artists and to be inspired by my peers.”
APAture fest runs Sat/23- November 4 at various venues and online. More info here.