Where to experience Asian art, culture, and history in Chicago

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Chicago is home to a wide range of diverse art and culture. And with Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in full swing, there’s no better time to explore the museums, galleries, and arts organizations that are highlighting different perspectives of the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience. From watching traditional performances to hearing untold stories, visitors can continue to celebrate and show their support for AAPI communities at these Chicago cultural institutions.

National Cambodian American Heritage Museum

National Cambodian Heritage Museum

The one-of-a-kind institution raises awareness of the Cambodian genocide and aims to rebuild and celebrate the Cambodian community in the U.S. Featured at the National Cambodian American Heritage Museum are rotating exhibits providing education on the country’s history and showcasing Cambodian art. Remember the Killing Fields, a permanent exhibit, honors Cambodians who passed away and those who survived the genocide — and has led Illinois to become the first state to adopt the Cambodian Day of Remembrance.

Heritage Museum of Asian Art

Founded a decade ago, the Heritage Museum of Asian Art in Bridgeport features art forms spanning many Asian cultures and eras. Explore the museum’s unique collection of archaic and modern jades, imperial porcelains, Chinese snuff bottles, and more. Stop by the museum’s most recent exhibit, If the Sky Could Dream — a compelling interactive installation, performance, and workshop series spotlighting dragon artworks throughout Asia. For free admission and a guided tour, plan your visit on the third Friday of the month.

Center for the Art of East Asia

This internationally renowned academic center is dedicated to the study of East Asian art and visual culture. Located at the University of Chicago, the Center for the Art of East Asiadevelops and coordinates programs that support scholarships and data for research. Inspiring works include the Dispersed Chinese Art Digitization Project, which seeks to document and digitally restore artifacts taken from sites in China and the Tianlongshan Caves Project, resulting in digital reconstruction of the caves and restoration of its sculptures.

Chinese American Museum of Chicago

Chinese American Museum of Chicago
Chinese American Museum of Chicago

Head over to historic Chinatown and explore Chinese American culture through rotating exhibits, education, and research at the Chinese American Museum of Chicago. With a mission to tell the story of Chinese Americans primarily in the Midwest, the museum offers community workshops and information on cultural topics like the history of Lunar New Year. Through Sept. 28, you can experience Shared Lines: The AAPI Experience on Route 66, a creative exhibit featuring unrepresented AAPI stories through Sammy Yuen’s captivating line drawings.

South Asia Institute

An independent arts and cultural center, South Asia Institute aims to amplify South Asian American voices with new exhibits, original programs, and educational initiatives. Programming is centered around exhibit themes and typically includes artist talks, book reads, and music concerts. Check out the institute’s recent ground-breaking exhibit, What is Seen and Unseen: Mapping South Asian American Art in Chicago — a citywide collaboration highlighting Chicago’s artistic heritage and communities. Visit on a Friday for free admission.

Field Museum

Field Museum artifacts
Guardian Lions Statues of guardian lions traditionally stood in front of Chinese imperial buildings and temples, as well as the homes of government officials and the wealthy, and were believed to have powerful protective benefits. The male leans his right paw upon an embroidered ball (in imperial contexts, representing supremacy over the world) and the female nurtures a cub under her left paw. © The Field Museum

With a long history of cutting-edge research in South and East Asia, the Field Museum offers an insightful look at different Asian cultures. The museum’s holdings of Asian textiles is among the country’s most distinctive collections and includes pieces from countries such as India, Bhutan, Korea, Indonesia, and the Philippines. And the Cyrus Tang Hall of China brings together more than 300 artifacts to spotlight the diverse traditions and stories of China.

Mandala Arts

Mandala South Asian Performing Arts
Mandala South Asian Performing Arts

A MacArthur Award-winning organization, Mandala Arts connects audiences and students with the vibrancy of the performing arts traditions of South Asia. Along with Mandala’s Ensemble, the organization offers dance and music classes in addition to an outreach program serving schools — all with one goal to bring folk and classic traditions, as well as current and hybrid innovations, to life. Don’t miss out on the Mandala Makers Festival in June, an annual celebration throughout the Devon Avenue neighborhood showcasing South Asian art in spaces such as parks and street corners.

The Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum

An artifact from the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures
Tablet inscribed with a story about Babylonian student life, Old Babylonian Period, Iraq, Nippur

ISACM A30217; Photo by Danielle Levy

Take a trip into the ancient past through galleries dedicated to Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, Nubia, Syria, Anatolia, and the Levant. The University of Chicago’s Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum is the city’s first interdisciplinary institute housing some 350,000 artifacts — making up one of the world’s best resources for the archaeology, at, history, and languages of West Asia and North Africa. Pioneers of the Sky: Aerial Archaeology and the Black Desert, a special exhibit featuring aerial archaeology in places like Iran, is currently open through Aug. 18.

Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute
Katsushika Hokusai. The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjûrokkei)”, c. 1830 – 1831. The Art Institute of Chicago, Clarence Buckingham Collection.

Visit the Art Institute of Chicago to explore Asian artworks spanning nearly five millennia. Their wide-ranging collection includes ancient, traditional, and modern works, including jades and ceramics from China, screens and woodblock prints from Japan, paintings and sculptures from India, and seminal pieces from across the region.

Christina Huynh

About Christina Huynh

Christina Huynh is a Chicago-based writer and editor. When she’s not reading articles based on her zodiac sign, she’s thinking about her next meal, taking pictures of pink sunsets, and looking for more plants to add to her collection.

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