Unseen: The Art of Charles Kay

An image from the series Unseen. ©Charles Kay Jr 2021

Interview with Charles Kay, Jr

Charles Kay, Jr is a Thai-American artist born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. His recent exhibit, UNSEEN, explores his family’s experiences adapting to life in the midwestern United States. From name changes to efforts to hide his Thai heritage, Charles Kay, Jr lays out the consequences for his identity development. Re-Imagining Migration’s Learning Arc invites educators and students to consider how our own moving stories connect to migration past, present, and future as we find our own place in a world on the move. Charles Kay, Jr.’s story provides an opportunity to learn about how he came to understand his place in his community.. The author describes his exhibit as a response to assimilating as he and his family adjusted to life in Omaha:.

“I am exploring the subtle details between black and white, where the other shades exist quietly, waiting to become visible. The transitions of the tide are a metaphor for peeling back the layers of time and allowing the areas beneath the surface to be seen. I expose those spaces, the powerful waves, the sharp reef, the deep landscape that pushes over the horizon line, and the complex life that lives below the surface. The determination of the surfer to paddle past wall after wall of white water to the outside gives me hope that I can break free from the currents of assimilation.”

Below are teaching ideas for using this interview and a short video recording of Charles Kay, Jr.s UNSEEN art exhibit using the Re-Imagining Migration Learning Arc to consider adjustment to life in a new place and what makes someone feel seen.

Teaching Objectives and Learning Outcomes:

  1. How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion? 
  2. How might this story of migration influence how people think and (re)act? 
  3. Students will reflect on how newcomers can come to understand the new land and their place in it over time. 

Essential Question: 

  1. What makes you feel seen?

Resources for the Lesson:

  1. UNSEEN Exhibit
  2. SEE FEEL THINK WONDER Project Zero thinking routine handout
  3. Excerpts from interview with Charles Kay, Jr. Part One and Part Two
  4. UNSEEN Graphic Organizer

Teaching Ideas:

  1. Start off by playing this short recording of Charles Kay, Jr’s UNSEEN Exhibit at Kaneko, an art gallery in Omaha, Nebraska. Ask students to use the Project Zero See Feel Think Wonder thinking routine as they view the video. Ask students to share their observations and questions.
  2. To deepen your reflection, review the introduction to UNSEEN of the exhibition and discuss how that adds to your understanding of the artwork. 
  3. Share that the focus of this activity will be to learn one story of adjustment to a new place–that of Thai-American artist Charles Kay, Jr and how he is using art to claim his identity.
  4. Ask students to consider a time of adjustment they experienced. How did they come to understand the new environment? What factors helped or hindered their inclusion?
  5. As your class listens to and/or watches the interview, ask them to take notes using this UNSEEN Graphic Organizer. You could consider assigning questions to students or having them all take notes on every question. You could consider pausing after each video excerpt and asking students to turn and talk to a neighbor about what they heard. This could serve as an opportunity to add more information to their graphic organizers.
    • Video excerpt One: Start of Part One  video to 9:24–Questions 1 and 2
    • Video Excerpt Two: Start of  Part Two video to 8:30–Question 3 
    • Video Excerpt Three: Second  Part Two 8:30 to 16:20–Question 4
    • Video Excerpt Four: Second  Part Two 16:20 to end–Questions 5 and 6
  6. After listening and/or viewing all of the video clips return to the UNSEEN Exhibit video clip viewed at the start of the lesson. Ask students to share if any of their questions were answered. Time permitting, the class could view the short exhibit video another time using the Three Why’s to make global, local, and personal connections. Additional follow-up questions might include:
    • Did you notice anything you didn’t see before?
    • Did you feel differently watching the video exhibit after hearing what it means to Charles Kay, Jr?
    • If you could ask Charles Kay, Jr a question, what would you ask him?
  7. To wrap up, ask students to return to their UNSEEN Graphic Organizer to reflect on the question that the exhibit raises: What makes you feel seen?