Interior Lives: Photographs of Chinese Americans in the 1980s by Bud Glick at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)

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Interior Lives: Photographs of Chinese Americans in the 1980s by Bud Glick at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)

In the early 1980s, the demographics of New York City’s Chinatown began to shift as immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong began to integrate into an area that had long been home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia. Although New York continues to hold that distinct title, Chinese residents have slowly spread in increasing numbers to other parts of the city, such as the neighborhoods of Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Flushing in Queens. However, there was a time when the heart and soul of the community could be found on the streets of Lower Manhattan.

Photograph by Bud Glick from his collection of photographs featuring New York Chinatown in the 1980s.

That spirit is captured in a collection of black and white photographs (some of which have never been seen before) in the exhibition, Interior Lives: Photographs of Chinese Americans in the 1980s by Bud Glick, at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). Commissioned by MOCA in 1981—known as the New York Chinatown History Project at the time—Glick’s photographs document a three-year period when the neighborhood was on the cusp of change. The presentation of his work is accompanied by a more recent oral history project that runs as audio within the exhibition space.

Photograph by Bud Glick from his collection of photographs featuring New York Chinatown in the 1980s.

Multilingual audio reflections on both the past and the present from several of the subjects in Glick’s images give context and offer informative first-person commentary. In many cases, they offer fascinating details on daily life in the ‘80s and make the photographs crackle with life. The oral histories are also available in Cantonese and Mandarin on the Museum website. In regard to this multimedia experience, Nancy Yao Maasbach, President of the Museum says, “By combining Bud Glick’s photographs with oral histories, the exhibition presents a rich contextualization of a complex time when much of the global Chinese diaspora viewed New York City’s Chinatown as its North Star.”

IMAGE 3: Vincent Lee and Bud Glick pose in front of the photograph Glick took of Lee and his grandfather in the 1980s.

Glick’s process as a photographer involved a mindful engagement with the community. The photographs suggest a friendly acceptance of his presence and imbibe a sense of everyday contentment. Intergenerational portraits, children playing gleefully, the documentation of community celebrations, as well as laundries, garment factories and the overlapping edges of Chinatown and Little Italy, create a rich tapestry of an often-overlooked part of New York’s history. The area and its residents are subject to the pressures of housing, gentrification and immigration like many 21st century New Yorkers, making the visibility of the experiences of Chinese New Yorkers an important addition to the public imagination.

Photograph by Bud Glick from his collection of photographs featuring New York Chinatown in the 1980s.

Interior Lives: Photographs of Chinese Americans in the 1980s by Bud Glick at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is organized in conjunction with the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) exhibition Interior Lives: Contemporary Photographs of Chinese New Yorkers and is on view through March 24, 2019.