Emphasis on the American

In these anti-politically correct times, many people shy away from ethnocentric shows, fearing yet another excuse for a social whine session. But that's not the case with the film festival and visual arts show called "Slant: Bold Asian American Images."

"A lot of people expect them to be relentlessly didactic and in-your-face, like 'Oh, I've been so wronged,' " says the show's curator, ex-Houston Press reporter Melissa Hung. "They are funny films and really smart. There are a lot of twists in them. And some of them are completely funny and outrageous."

One of the films Hung chose last year made light of being gay, Canadian and of Asian descent. The short film was set up like an instructional language video, with a woman who utters a series of vulgarities and epithets in English and then in Cantonese, each more crass than the one before. Ultimately, audience members were squirming in their seats.

If you're still a little daunted by the prospect of art that's good for you, start in the gallery at DiverseWorks. Since the visual art pieces don't have an obvious Asian face attached, they can perhaps be more easily viewed outside of a sociopolitical context. Then you'll see that the "Slant" selections taste great, too.

"I want [non-Asians] to have an understanding of the Asian-American experience through the art or the films they view, but ultimately I would like them to appreciate them because they are good works," Hung says.

Making a niche show for a mainstream audience may sound like a paradox, but immigrants -- first-generation Americans, especially -- are familiar with contradiction. They struggle their whole lives with how to embrace their new home without losing touch with the old one. And as Hung sees it, Asian-American art can't be seen as simply American art unless it gets a little exposure.

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Brandon Cullum