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The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
215 Centre Street,
New York, NY 10013
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Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving
Date: 25 Sep 2014 - 1 Mar 2015

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) will present its groundbreaking exhibition examining Chinese American identity. Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving opens September 25, 2014. The exhibition will showcase highlights from its archives and special collections while engaging visitors in a dynamic dialogue on identity. To date, MOCA owns the largest Chinese American collection in the United States, featuring over 65,000 artifacts, oral histories, textiles, photographs, and more. The Museum will celebrate its 35th year anniversary in January 2015. 
“Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving will ask visitors to think about how contemporary Chinese American identity is constructed and also generate conversations through our repository of personal histories and artifacts from generations of Chinese Americans,” said Herb Tam, Curator and Director of Exhibitions of MOCA.
Hailed by Smithsonian Magazine as “a cultural rescue mission to save a little-known immigrant heritage,” MOCA was originally founded as the New York Chinatown History Project in 1980. Co-founders Charlie Lai and John Kuo Wei Tchen met in 1976, and together with a group of artists, historians, and students, they led an extraordinary grass-roots movement to chronicle the experiences and preserve the memories of Chinese American generations through documentation, research, and collecting efforts.
After over 34 years of collecting artifacts, photographs, oral histories, archival and library materials, MOCA’s archives and special collections now represent an important national repository of materials revealing diverse threads of the Chinese diaspora intimately woven within America’s multicultural tapestry. MOCA’s Collections and Research Center is located in the heart of historic Chinatown at 70 Mulberry Street.
Exhibition Overview
The title of the exhibit was inspired by a Chinese proverb, “Each wave of the Yangtze River pushes at the wave ahead.” As a metaphor for Chinese American history, the waves represent successive generations of immigrants unearthing the histories of those that came before them, and in the process of discovery, addressing pertinent issues of identity, memory and history.
Waves of Identity transforms the Bloomberg Special Exhibitions gallery into an archive environment encouraging open exploration of MOCA’s rich collection of Chinese American history. This exhibition will present over 200 objects and stories, organized in eight sections, through a series of provocative questions such as: Where Does Chinatown End? How Do You Become An American? and What Does It Mean To Be Chinese? This inquiry-based approach will prompt visitors to actively search for answers within archive materials and objects. The featured artifacts, documents, videos and oral histories embody and evoke the lives, complexities, and aspirations of Chinese American communities in New York Chinatown and beyond.
The exhibition will include highlights from MOCA’s special collections and previous exhibitions including intricate paper sculptures from the Fly to Freedom Collection: The Art of the Golden Venture Refugees, Recovering Chinatown: The 9/11 Collection, Marcella Chin Dear Collection, Hazel Ying Lee Collection, the Chinese Musical and Theatrical Association Collection, and more. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. During the run of the exhibition, MOCA will also offer a series of programs and educational workshops. For updates on the forthcoming program schedule, please visit the Museum’s website.
Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving is curated by Herb Tam, Curator and Director of Exhibitions and Yue Ma, Associate Director of Collections. Cynthia Lee served as the project advisor. It is presented in conjunction with the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition, Chinese American: Inclusion/Exclusion.
Funding for the exhibition and catalog is provided by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited, Con Edison, National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition, Chinese American: Inclusion/Exclusion, and an anonymous donor. This exhibition and related programs are also made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts (Museum Program), with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Legislature, and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
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