FREE SPEECH ZONE | Wing Young Huie captures community on film

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There is little argument that Minnesota’s overt cultural identity is often limited to images of Lutheranism, Potlucks, and butter sculptures of dairy princesses. While Lake Wobegon may hold a nostalgic place in many Minnesotans’ hearts, Wing Young Huie, an award-winning photographer who owns a studio located on Franklin Avenue, argues: “A lot of what we see on a daily basis doesn’t really reflect who we are. And so the perceptions of who we are, as Minnesotans, hasn’t caught up to reality.”

According to Huie, a Duluth native, his identity as a person of non-European decent is rarely shown in our culture’s understanding of what a Minnesotan is. “I think there is a sense of who ‘we’ are. It’s overt and it’s subtle; it’s embedded in our culture; it’s embedded in our media; it’s embedded in our daily conversations,” he said. “People just seem to accept the idea of what a Minnesotan is. And I’m not that. And there are hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t like that.”

A distinguishing feature of Huie’s photography is the overwhelming sense of authenticity which his projects convey. Whether its an examination of Asian-American culture in 9 Months in America: An Ethnocentric Tour; an honest display of one of Minneapolis’ oldest neighborhood in Frogtown: Photographs and Conversations from a Neighborhood; or an empowering investigation of individuals’ reality in Lake Street USA; Huie’s photos aim to capture the world that is often ignored and stigmatized by institutions.

“I’ve heard people say to me, ‘Your photos just look real,'” he explained.

Huie’s transition into the Seward neighborhood came eight years ago when he decided to open his own business. Huie said that he as always lived in a studio space in which his work would often blend into his outside life. His gallery in the centrally-located, artistically-oriented Seward neighborhood serves as a way for him “to work outside of the traditional gallery system.”

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Though his work has been and continues to be displayed in art museums, Huie lights up when he talks about the way in which his more recent photography projects are presented in a very public manner. “In a museum, everything is art; whether you like it or not,” he explained. “When you put [art] on the street, it is what you think it is.”

Huie’s most recent work is currently on public display all along the six-mile stretch University Avenue. The outdoor gallery is presented by Public Art St. Paul , a program that is devoted to presenting artists’ work in the civic realm. According to their website, the University Project aims to “transform a major urban thoroughfare in Saint Paul, Minnesota, into a six-mile public gallery of over 400 photographs.”

University Avenue was built and has continued to be maintained by the immigrant populations of St. Paul. To illuminate issues such as race, class, religion, and cultural tensions, Huie has displayed his work on more than 70 store fronts in this central corridor. A billboard-size screen also displays Huie’s projected, large-scale works on a nightly basis. Neighborhood residents and interested citizens recently gathered at the projection site on September 25 for a monthly cabaret. The final cabaret will be held on October 30 at 7:00pm and every Wednesday evening during this month, Huie will host a discussion session dubbed “Wednesday’s With Wing!”

Visit http://www.theuniversityaveproject.com/ for more information on the University Avenue Project and http://www.wingyounghuie.com/about.html for more information on Huie.