Upcoming Exhibits

The Imperial Valley Desert Museum is pleased to present Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Exclusion Era Photographs. This temporary exhibit explores the social, political, and judicial disenfranchisement of Chinese Californians — as well as moments of Chinese agency and resilience — in the decades before and after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The exhibit, on view from April 28, 2023 to June 30, 2023, examines how photography played a potent role in both Chinese people’s interactions with the dominant culture and in the government’s fledgling systems of registration, identification, and surveillance.

The exhibit begins in the Gold Rush era, when significant numbers of Chinese people began to arrive in California. Anti-Chinese sentiment led to protests, violence, and vigilante expulsions up and down the West Coast. The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese laborers from immigrating, becoming citizens, and tightened restrictions on previous residents reentering the country. It is against this backdrop that the exhibit considers the broad range of nineteenth-century imagery depicting the first generations of Chinese Californians and how visual culture influenced, aligned with, and diverged from the politics of Exclusion and the actions of the state. 

Featured in the exhibit are examples of how different types of photography (studio portraits, street photography, and surveillance) reflect different facets of the Chinese experience. While studio portraits presented a dignified image of the subject, street photography highlighted the unequal social relations that existed between the Chinese and non-Chinese populations. Government headshots were used as a tool in the suppression, surveillance, and criminalization of Chinese residents through systems of registration and identification. Together, these varying styles of photography shaped the perception of the Chinese in the Exclusion Era years.

In addition, IVDM will be adding information to the Exhibit related to the Chinese-American and Chinese-Mexican communities in El Centro and Mexicali during this era.

Exhibition Support

Chinese Pioneers is an exhibit by the California Historical Society and touring through Exhibit Envoy. Institutional support provided by San Francisco Grants for the Arts and Yerba Buena Community Benefit District. The Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation supported the first 6 bookings of this exhibition.

About the California Historical Society

The California Historical Society (CHS), the official state historical society of California, has been collecting, sharing, and honoring the extraordinarily diverse stories from throughout the state for 150 years. Headquartered in San Francisco with support from California Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, and all of its donors and members across the state, the nonprofit organization works statewide to inspire and empower people to make California’s past a meaningful part of their contemporary lives.

At Exhibit Envoy

Exhibit Envoy provides traveling exhibitions and professional services to museums throughout California. For more information, visit www.exhibitenvoy.org.