Reading List: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Stack of six books on Asian and Pacific Islander American art history, against a gray background

Since 1992, the month of May has been designated as a time to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. This month was chosen to honor the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843, and to highlight the anniversary of the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869, a majority of whose workers were Chinese immigrants. Today, May is marked by recognizing the diverse experiences, contributions, and histories of individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage in the United States.

The list below offers highlights from the Frick Art Reference Library’s holdings, in both physical and digital formats, on the works and lives of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists. These artists are historically underrepresented in scholarship, which has also tended to focus on Americans of East Asian descent more than other AAPI identities. The library is engaged in ongoing efforts to diversify and expand its holdings in these areas, within the geographic and chronological framework of its collection; to learn more, you can read our collection development policy.

More information on the following titles can be accessed through the library’s online catalog. Thanks to our program with Open Library, all the e-books listed are freely accessible from home by creating an Internet Archive account. The reading room at Frick Madison is open by appointment—reserve your spot now.

  1. Asian American Art: A History, 1850–1970

    Edited by Gordon H. Chang (2008)

    Delve into the lives and production of artists of Asian ancestry active in the United States before 1970. This survey features original essays, biographies of more than 150 artists, reproductions of artwork, ephemera, and images of the artists. The essays consider aesthetics, social structures, and national and international historical contexts to spotlight the wide array of Asian American art.

Cover of a book titled "Asian American Art: A History, 1850–1970," featuring a detail of an artwork depicting an abstract red-and-orange sunset resembling flames
  1. Fresh Talk, Daring Gazes: Conversations on Asian American Art

    By Elaine H. Kim, Margo Machida, and Sharon Mizota (2003)

    Consider the responses drawn from twenty-four cultural critics and activists who each paired up with a contemporary artist of Asian American heritage or from the Asian diaspora to reflect on their body of work. An introduction to the history of Asian American art from the nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries, this publication supplies an important survey of major artists and artworks.

  2. Leading the Way: Asian American Artists of the Older Generation

    By Irene Poon (2001)

    Consider powerful photographic portraits produced by photographer and author Irene Poon of twenty-five Asian American artists active between 1930 and 1970. These images are supported by interviews, bibliographies, and a selection of each sitter’s work in an act of historic recovery that aims to empower the Asian American art community, especially younger generations of artists.

Cover of "Leading the Way: Asian American Artists of the Older Generation," featuring an abstracted artwork of trees
  1. Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts

    Edited by Russell Leong (1991)

    Learn about the development of independent Asian and Pacific Islander American media arts from 1970 to 1990 from the viewpoints of fifty media and cultural sector workers. The commentators represent a range of experiences, from newer members of the industry to veteran filmmakers, and include both immigrant and American-born perspectives on the topic of media arts.

  2. Experiences of Passage: The Paintings of Yun Gee & Li-lan

    By Joyce Brodsky (2008)

    Compare the works of Yun Gee, a Chinese immigrant and early modernist artist, with those of his daughter Li-lan, an American-born contemporary artist. Selections of work from both artists are beautifully reproduced in this text that explores intergenerational connections between their lives and creative production.

Book cover of "Experiences of Passage," a red book cover with a library bar code, against a gray background
  1. Part Asian, 100% Hapa: Portraits by Kip Fulbeck (2006)


    View intimate photographic portraits of people of multiracial Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, offered alongside the sitters’ own statements of identity. The subjects come from all over the world and range in age from toddlers to seniors. Varying from insightful accounts to comical narratives, the personal statements in this book reflect the many ways individuals grapple with identity.

  2. An Ocean Apart: Contemporary Vietnamese Art from the United States and Vietnam

    By Jeffrey Hantover, translations by Nguyễn Ngọc Bích (1995)

    Explore creations by contemporary Vietnamese and Vietnamese American artists that integrate past and present. These works encompass themes of colonialism, resettlement, dislocation, and emerging stability, while Hantover’s essay compares the works of artists living in Vietnam with those who reside in the United States.

Book cover of "An Ocean Apart: Contemporary Vietnamese Art from the United States and Vietnam" featuring a detail of a painting of two young girls looking at books
  1. Signs of Home: The Paintings and Wartime Diary of Kamekichi Tokita

    By Barbara Johns (2011)

    Experience the power of Kamekichi Tokita’s diary. The Seattle-based Japanese artist began his diary the day Pearl Harbor was bombed and vowed to continue it until World War II ended. His entries cover the events and emotional turmoil he experienced as a Japanese immigrant living in America during the war, including his detention at the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho. Author and historian Barbara Johns prefaces Tokita’s diary with a biography of the artist and discussion of his artwork.

  2. Miné Okubo: Following Her Own Road

    Edited by Greg Robinson and Elena Tajima Creef (2008)

    Celebrate artist Miné Okubo in this text that examines her life from three different perspectives, including her most well-known work, Citizen 13660, which documents her experience living in detention camps in California and Utah through drawings and text. The first perspective is Okubo’s own, highlighting the artist’s personal statements, interviews, and letters. Art history scholars then share their perspectives on the impact of the artist and her work. The final section features tributes written by Okubo’s friends. The artist’s expressive work is reproduced throughout.

Book cover of "Miné Okubo: Following Her Own Road," a red book cover with a library bar code, against a gray background
  1. The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii, Artist and Wartime Witness

    By Barbara Johns (2017)

    Takuichi Fujii’s diary offers readers another look at the life of Japanese immigrants living in America during World War II. Fujii and his family were sent to detention camps at Puyallup, Washington, and then Minidoka. The diary’s illustrations, masterfully drawn in ink, detail daily life in these camps. Translations and an introduction are provided by the artist’s grandson.

All photos by Joseph Coscia Jr., The Frick Collection

Link: Tags:
Facebook Twitter Threads