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AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: Bernice Bing

Bernice Bing spent most of her life reflecting Eastern and Western culture through her work. Bing was the eldest of two girls born in San Francisco, California. She and her sister spent their childhood bouncing between foster homes, the notorious Ming Quong orphanage, and their grandmother’s home, following the loss of their parents. Her grandmother fostered her love of the arts, leading the academically challenged Bing to enter local and regional competitions. After graduating high school, she briefly attended the California College of Arts and Crafts before transferring to the San Francisco Art Institute, where she received an MFA in painting.

Following graduation, Bing continued to merge her love of calligraphy and Chinese philosophy in her work. She was heavily involved in the Bay Area Beat Era art scene, participating in several exhibitions during her graduate and post-graduate studies. At the same time, she maintained a studio in San Francisco. The visual artist failed to gain traction with her work and disappeared for a few years. She reemerged in the late 1960s for an exhibition in Berkley before joining the Esalen Institute’s first residential program to continue her philosophy studies. Her involvement in the arts wasn’t affected as she worked with organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, the Neighborhood Arts Program, and the San Francisco Art Festival. Her activism expanded into her local community as she organized an art workshop with the Chinatown gang, the Baby Wah Chings, in the wake of the 1977 Golden Dragon Massacre.

Bing continued working in arts administration as the first executive director for the South of Market Cultural Center (now known as SOMArts) from 1980 to 1984. Her tenure as director led to the program expanding significantly. Her time as an arts administrator ended after she returned to her first loves – painting and philosophy. She traveled throughout China, Japan, and Korea from 1984 to 1985 to get closer to her culture. She studied traditional Chinese ink landscape painting and calligraphy while presenting lectures on Abstract Expressionism.

In her later years, Bing took on menial jobs to support herself after her Southeast Asian trip. Things took a turn for the better as the mixed media artist found a sisterhood with Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA). Fostering this association helped Bing to create later works like the “Cosmic Gap” series and Lotus Root. The painter died on August 18, 1998, after a battle with cancer.

Bernice Bing skillfully incorporated her Chinese heritage into her art as a way of celebrating the culture that had been denied to her for so long. Despite her exceptional talent as a painter, her work was largely overlooked during her lifetime. However, the art world is now beginning to recognize and appreciate her contributions. I will say, “Ms. Bing, we appreciate you skillfully blending your artistic talents and ancestral roots epically.”

Art has really been the way I have been able to understand both cultures, and to undo the wrongdoing of both cultures.

Bernice Bing
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