“I think the emergence of Asian American creative artists..is what’s making the difference. In every arena too – whether it’s politics or commerce or literature – Asians are now defining our own image and telling our own stories, from our vantage point, in our voices. And I think that’s what’s making American [culture] lthat much richer.” -George Takei
George Hosato Takei is primarily known for his role as the USS Enterprise’s Haikaru Sulu in the Star Trek TV series.
Takei is secondarily known for his comical and opinionated social media personality. However, George Takei is such a vastly well-rounded individual, that these two facets of his public life don’t do his depth justice. The Japanese American National Museum hosts an emotional and empowering exhibition paying homage to a man who spans generations and reinvents himself throughout the test of time.
New Frontiers, the Many Worlds of George Takei is an exhibition featuring George Takei as the spotlight at the Japanese American National Museum. Running through August 20, 2017, there’s limited time left to experience what I can only describe as an emotional exhibition about George Takei.
For those of you who haven’t visited the Japanese American National Museum, please do. While it’s easy to get caught up in all that the Japanese and Japanese American community gives to Los Angeles in Little Tokyo, how the U.S. has taken from the Japanese American community is often too easily neglected.
Rightfully so, the Japanese American National Museum spotlights the WWII Japanese internment camps, of which few know George Takei grew up in. Yes, George Takei was five years old when his father told him that his family was going on a long vacation to a place called Arkansas. Takei understood a family vacation to be a journey by way railroad car with armed soldiers at both ends of the car. The U.S. incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans (of whom two-thirds were U.S. citizens) were sent to concentration camps in the wake of a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
However, the Japanese internment camps weren’t the only governmental order Takei’s family also suffered under: George Takei’s family and ancestral bonds were destroyed when the United States droped an atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Among the nearly 300,000 people who died in the combined city fatality count, were George Takei’s aunt and her five-year-old son.
George Takei might seem frighteningly relevant in his social media promulgations to question governmental authority, however, this exhibition demonstrates that George Takei’s relevancy comes from a deeply pre-meditated course of activism spurred by his personal experiences.
“…I hope that [the world] comes to share the need for developing our capacity for diplomacy. I think that’s the only way for the human race to survive.” – George Takei
The New Frontiers exhibition does showcase Takei’s early life in a Japanese internment camp, but New Frontiers also highlights Takei’s political race for Councilman.
New Frontiers displays a multitude of George Takei’s paths of political activism. However, these are snapshots of Takei’s varied successes in life.
Unlike this post, New Frontiers begins in a very whimsical way, working its way through activism, tragedy, and through to spiritual accomplishment.
Star Trek signed memorabilia, fan art, phasers and even an embroidered jacket sporting the USS Enterprise flying over San Francisco litter display cases entrenched in a rather hip and millennial pop-art style exhibition space. From Takei quotables on posters, to “Eau My” Takei perfume, kitsch flows freely throughout the exhibition’s entryway, professing a wide-spread and heartfelt love for Takei.
Moving through the space, there’s certainly not a lack of Star Trek paraphernalia, however, Star Trek doesn’t rear its head of fandom in an overpowering way. The Japanese American National Museum, like the rest of the world, knows Takei and Sulu are synonymous in the eyes of even a Star Trek layperson. So the museum rightfully doesn’t overpower the exhibition with Star Trek, but instead threads Star Trek throughout titles of each exhibition station. However, there is no shortage of Star Trek nerd fodder with several of the displays, as the exhibition includes the chair Mr. Sulu sat in in the television series.
Apart from his role in Star Trek, Takei was a proliferate powerhouse in film and theatre. Keeping with his cultural heritage, Takei tried to fight Asian stereotypes.
“Hollywood, and especially television, had a long history of stereotypical depictions of Asian men as buffoons, menials, or menaces.” –George Takei
This exhibition does a great service to this aspect of Takei’s activism, however, for the sake of brevity, I will only mention that New Frontiers is so packed with meaningful and emotional material that what could be considered the only “traditional” piece of modern art is tucked behind a corner wall in the gallery. A series of doors marked with adjectives often associated with masculinity appear as a reminder to the public, but they also serve as a display of the roles Takei wished he hadn’t taken because of the role’s stereotypical Hollywood depiction of Asian men.
Hollywood can certainly take a cue from Takei moving forward, but not only in actor diversity.
Takei believed that the only way to ultimately combat stereotypical depictions of Asians on screen is to have more Asians working behind the scenes.
While this post seems ratcheted up with political content, that’s ultimately what the exhibition is. However, not because Takei is so serious, or that New Frontiers is so serious, but because people themselves are naturally political in self-expression of experience and progress.
New Frontiers is actually quite playful and empowering; it truly is an emotional exhibition, something I wasn’t quite expecting.
To that end, I want to end my post on my New Frontier’s experience by highlighting my favorite and the most personal aspect of the exhibition: images and tokens from George Takei’s wedding. George Takei and Brad Altman (now Brad Takei) provided a wedding guest book, personal photos, and even Brad Takei’s hand-written vows. The section of New Frontiers is sweet and truly moving that such a private moment in such a public life would so wholeheartedly be provided to the public.
“It’s not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It’s more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow orridor that starts to widen. And then some doors are open and light comes in, and there are skylights and it widens…And you start realizing that this is ‘normal’. ‘For me.’”
George Takei has given himself to public service in obvious forms throughout his life, and this exhibition carries that service on to new frontiers.
Exhibition: New Frontiers, the Many Worlds of George Takei
Where: Japanese American National Museum
When: Through August 20, 2017
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday-Sunday: 11am – 5pm
*Final visitor admissions are accepted 30 minutes before closing.
Cost: Adults $10
Seniors (62 and over) $6
Students (with ID) and Youth (6-17) $6
Children 5 and under and JANM Members, Free.
*Every third Thursday, the Japanese American National Museum gives back to the public with free entry from 12pm to 8pm