art by Yaroslava Bondar November 16, 2020
“I think I’m a philanthropic misanthrope,” said Elwing Súóng Gonzalez to her teacher when she was in ninth grade. Gonzalez is a writer, artist, and educator who supports creatives much like herself.
Flash forward to today, this hasn’t changed too much.
“I like people in theory and I love when people create. And stories with people and watching people… but my interactions with people are very difficult,” the LA born-and-based artist explained on our Zoom call.
Behind her are posters reading “Black Lives Matter” and “No Human is Illegal.”
Despite this discomfort stemming from, what Gonzalez says, is anxiety and internal barriers (“it makes it hard for me to have individual interactions”), the Vietnamese American artist, teacher, and author has actively used her art to create a safe space on Instagram.
Her Instagram page @elwingbling, which has over 80 thousand followers, is the main place where she posts her art to support creatives. The work is a combination of words and ambiguous faces.
“The two biggest parts of my artwork are personal healing and political healing, but then of course those two things overlap,” Gonzalez told Kulture Hub. “It’s like the personal and political together.”
Besides being an artist, Gonzalez is also a teacher (of eighth graders and at community college), and mother. She sees many parallels in these three identities and connects all three back to educating and as a means to support creatives.
“[People all need to] feel like they matter, they’re seen, they’re not vulnerable to being criticized for expressing their thoughts or who they are,” said Gonzalez.
According to her, only then can real learning happen.
“It boils down to the fact that I think all the work I do, whether it’s writing history or doing artwork or even raising my kids, all of it is educating in some way.”Elwing Súóng Gonzalez
Her art reflects this need to communicate and educate. Her work is relatively straight forward: line drawing, noses, eyes, lips, surrounded by short phrases and reminders.
“I need to make things most accessible to the largest group of people as possible in my teaching, and I bring that to my drawing and then the drawing brings it back to education,” Gonzalez said.
“It’s like this infinite loop of how to make things most accessible to the largest group.”
While her art style has been influenced by her need to educate, Gonzalez said it has also come out of her being really busy. “One of the reasons I stopped painting when I was raising my kids is because it was so difficult in my mind to lay out all the paint, set up the easel, start drawing, start painting and then be interrupted,” Gonzalez explained.
Instead of oils and pastels, she now keeps extensive notes in her phone and has loads of scrap paper with scribbled ideas for future pieces. “I start with whatever idea and then usually I add a drawing,” she said.
“Usually I just take pictures of myself in various forms, with whatever expression I’m feeling or I think the person I’m talking to would have.”Elwing Súóng Gonzalez
Ultimately, it’s also about wanting to actively share her thoughts and engaging with conversations. “I have these little tiny ideas and these little expressions and trying to put them into this whole thing is too much of a production, and counterproductive to the goal of my writing or drawing,” she said.
“I need to get this idea out there now and then once I get it out, I can rework it later.”Elwing Súóng Gonzalez
Despite the open and inviting space Gonzalez has created on her Instagram page, she isn’t immune to “trolls”.
“I’ve gotten personal attacks when talking about immigration or white privilege or gender,” Gonzalez said.
The attacks range in various groups, from British Lord of the Rings fans to TERFs. Her list of blocked accounts is extensive.
Some of the criticism and personal attacks really rattle her. “Especially when I’m writing something that I’m not completely sure about, and then someone exploits that or seizes upon that or just happens to touch upon that insecurity that I might have, I feel like I’m not knowledgeable enough to be talking about something,” she said.
“If it’s something I’m still learning about or am not completely sure that I know, but I’m taking a stab at expressing it, something someone says can stay with me.”Elwing Súóng Gonzalez
However, this critique also plays into her desire to grow. Gonzalez isn’t afraid of criticism and instead uses it to better her art. She finds social media especially useful for that purpose.
“A really great thing about social media is being able to archive things and then rework them when I know better. And I can do better and I can create something that’s more nuanced.”Elwing Súóng Gonzalez
Not all criticism phases her. “If what I’m writing is authentic and it’s how I feel in that moment, usually the criticisms don’t bother me because it’s like ‘I don’t care, this is how I feel, I can’t do anything about it, this is it.’”
One of the most popular pieces Gonzalez made, ties into this. The piece reads: “I pledge allegiance to myself, my boundaries, my morals,” and she has reposted it various times. It can also be purchased in her Etsy shop printed on buttons and cups.
The piece is once again a testament to, and reminder of personal growth. “I’ve not felt a sense of belonging and I tried to create belonging with so many different groups,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve just recently kind of made peace with ‘you’re not gonna belong with any group, any substantial group even if you feel that you love that group.'”
“I’m okay as long as I am me and I am dedicated to my beliefs and who I am as a person,” Gonzalez said. “That’s good enough.”