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Stanford University

Asian American Art Initiative

Asian American Art Initiative logo

Based at the Cantor Arts Center, The Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) is dedicated to the study of artists and makers of Asian descent. The AAAI encompasses a range of activities, including: collecting and exhibiting works of Asian American/diaspora artists; preserving archival materials; fostering undergraduate and graduate education; and cultivating community collaboration and dialogue through public programming.

Explore the timeline for key moments in Asian American history and art at Stanford.

Learn more about Asian American and Pacific Islander history at Stanford and beyond: Click here for a detailed timeline created by the Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) community at Stanford.

About the Asian American Art Initiative

The Asian American Art Initiative at the Cantor aims to establish Stanford as a leading academic and curatorial center for the study of Asian American and Asian diaspora artists.

Rather than a discrete identity category, we approach the term “Asian American” as a heterogeneous, relational term that connotes the interplay of social inclusion, exclusion, and racialization, as well as connections among East, Southeast, and South Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. We strive to foster innovative, interdisciplinary research into the of work by Asian American/Asian diaspora makers.

We invite you to read about the latest acquisitions, explore the collection, and learn how you can access the resources made available to advance scholarship in the field.

What We Do

Our Mission

Who We Are

Our Team

Our Partners

Our Partners

Our Mission

The AAAI is dedicated to the collection, preservation, research, and public presentation of Asian American/diaspora artists and makers. We believe that these artists offer resources for surviving, fighting, and flourishing in the present and future.


Works of art by Asian Americans remain largely underrepresented in major museum collections. The AAAI makes targeted acquisitions in order to build one of the preeminent collections of work by Asian American artists at a university art museum. Such acquisitions present new opportunities for the university to deliver public encounters with work by artists from the Asian diaspora, conduct original research, and preserve art works for generations to come.


In collaboration with the Stanford Libraries, the AAAI seeks to acquire, organize, preserve, and make accessible archival materials related to Asian American art. Archives by  definition are rich in primary source documents, many of which are unpublished and unknown to the world. This collaboration aspires to make Stanford a destination for researchers aiming to create  timely, impactful and highly original scholarship on Asian American artists. Moreover, it is yet another means by which Stanford celebrates the meaningful contributions of Asian American artists  to the art world, culture writ large, and beyond.


Through an ongoing curatorial program consisting of permanent collection installations, special temporary exhibitions, and collaborations with contemporary artists, the AAAI aims to showcase work by Asian American artists in a variety of formats. The purpose of this program is to provide meaningful platforms for museum visitors to engage with Asian American art and history, highlight the artistic production of underrepresented artists, and collaborate with community members to raise awareness about issues surrounding the Asian diaspora.


The AAAI fosters interdisciplinary research through undergraduate and graduate student education; digital documentation and interpretation; and a range of public programming.  We acknowledge that the richest source of wisdom about Asian American artists remains the communities to which they belonged. As such, we seek to innovate non-hierarchical modes of conducting and presenting research that uses works of art to catalyze dialogue among scholars, students, artists, and community members.

Our Team

The AAAI is spearheaded by the Cantor Arts Center and brings in partners from across Stanford University.

Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, PhD

Robert M. and Ruth L. Halperin Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art


Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander is the Robert M. and Ruth L. Halperin Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Cantor Arts Center. At the Cantor, she is responsible for acquiring works by Asian American and Asian diasporic artists. Alexander cultivates relationships with AAPI community members, donors, artist estates, and living artists to help build the Cantor’s growing collection of Asian American art. Since she assumed the position in 2018, Alexander has acquired works by Ruth Asawa, Bernice Bing, Sung-woo Chun, Dominique Fung, Hisako Hibi, Michael Jang, Chiura Obata, and Carlos Villa, among others, for the Cantor’s collection. She collaborates with the Cantor team to develop innovative exhibitions and campus programming surrounding the work of American artists.

Alexander has been invited to present her research and writing at the Harvard Art Museums, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Folk Art Museum, Fabric Workshop Museum, Laband Art Gallery, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; her scholarship has been supported by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design, and the American Craft Council. From 2017-2018 she was a Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Aleesa Alexander headshot

Marci Kwon, PhD

Assistant Professor of Art History, Stanford University



Marci Kwon is Assistant Professor of Art History at Stanford University.  She is the author of Enchantments: Joseph Cornell and American Modernism (Princeton, 2021). Her work has appeared in Third Text, Modernism/Modernity Print +, and edited volumes on social art history, self-taught art, and the early history of the Museum of Modern Art.  

At Stanford, Kwon serves as a faculty affiliate of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Asian American Studies, African and African American Studies, American Studies, the Center for East Asia, and Feminist and Gender Studies, and the steering committee of Modern Thought and Literature. She is the recipient of the Asian American Studies Faculty Prize, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity Teaching Award, and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award.





A headshot of Marci Kwon

Gordon Chang, PhD

Senior Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education*


Gordon Chang's scholarly research is focused in foreign relations and the historical connections between race and ethnicity in America. He also explores trans-Pacific relations in their diplomatic, cultural, and social dimensions. He is a published author in the areas of U.S. diplomacy, America-China relations, the Chinese diaspora, Asian American history, and global history. His most recent books have examined the history of Chinese railroad workers in America in the 19th century.

*Mr. Chang also serves as Professor of American History and is the Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities at Stanford University.



A headshot of Gordon Chang

Mark Dean Johnson, MFA

Professor of Art, San Francisco State University


Mark Dean Johnson is Professor of Art at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and has been collaboratively involved for decades in documenting the careers of underrecognized artists in California by organizing exhibitions, publications, and public programs. He was the Principal Editor for Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (2008: Stanford University Press).

Professor Johnson has also organized many symposia and participated in many panels for venues including the Berkeley Art Museum, China Institute in New York, China Art Academy in Hangzhou, College Art Association, Hammer Museum at UCLA, Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Sichuan Museum in Chengdu, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Yokohama Museum of Art.

A headshot of Mark Johnson

Our Partners

The Asian American Art Initiative is spearheaded by the Cantor Arts Center, and collaborates with the following partners:

  • The Vice Presidency for the Arts
  • The Institute for Diversity in the Arts
  • Anderson Collection at Stanford University
  • Stanford Libraries and Special Collections
  • The Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University

Thank you to our members and generous donors. To learn more about supporting the Asian American Art Initiative, please click here

We recognize that Stanford sits on the territory of Huichin, the ancestral and unceded land of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, who are the successors of the historic and sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County.  We recognize that every member of the community has benefited—and continues to benefit—from the use and occupation of this land.