The museum is saddened to learn of the passing of curator Karin Higa on Tuesday. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with her when she visited the museum in 2008 for the installation and opening of the exhibition One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now, which she co-curated for the Asia Society, New York.
Michael Rooks, then curator of European and American art, and then deputy director Susan Sayre Batton invited Karin and the Asia Society to bring the show to Honolulu.
In her panel discussion with One Way or Another artists Michael Arcega, Jean Shin and Mika Tajima, she brought great I-was-there insight to the rise of Asian-American artists.
Michael organized the panel and a collaborative team worked on bringing five artists in the show to the museum to personally install their work, some of them selecting local artists to help them. The visiting artist program was funded by a grant from the Laila Twigg-Smith Art Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation.
“I’m a little overwhelmed with sadness. Just in August we visited her in Los Angeles, and although her hair was shorn short and she seemed a little fatiged, she was still her lighthearted self, and I would even say radiant with a positive energy,” wrote artist Mika Tajima by email from New York, when we asked her to share her thoughts on Karin. “It was hard to fathom that she was so ill. Although she was very realistic about her illness, she didn’t dwell on it and instead preferred to talk about what amazing exhibition she has seen, what was news in the art world, or hear about what new works and projects I was up to. In one of her emails she sent me during her chemo treatment, she mentioned she was too weak to see art in person and that this longing reminded her she was in the right profession. Sometimes one questions what the purpose of art is, or if it’s really all that valuable—Karin never did. She had such a passion and deep intellectual inquiry with art. As an artist, this is the kind of person I want to know. I feel humble to have known her and that I had a chance to work with her.”
Mike adds that from her perspective as an Asian American, “I also have gratitude and deep respect for how Karin contextualized the work of artists such as myself. She did not think of Asian American as a marginal position, but rather committed herself to exploring the complex, contradictory, and unique perspective the moniker could be. She was rational, curious, precise, frank, intelligent and all together a wonderful person to be with.”
Trisha Lagaso Goldberg, commissions project manager for the Hawai‘i State Foundation for Culture and the Arts as well as an artist and independent curator, was in her twenties and starting to find her way in the arts community in San Francisco when she met Karin. “I was just beginning to meet this older generation of movers and shakers who were real art world celebrities to me,” says Trisha. “She and Margo Machida were like intellectual, feminist, art historian goddesses. Larger than life. Thinking, doing, and organizing things that I had no idea ‘we,’ as female Asian Americans, had ‘permission’ to think, do, and organize. It was powerful to hear her speak, as humble and down to earth as she was. She cast a spell on my young mind and curatorial practice—which worked.”
Pictured above is Karin (far right) with her One Way or Another artists Indigo Som, Jean Shin, Mika Tajima and Michael Arcega.