Welcome to AAPI Heritage Month! Art has always been an important form of expression in the AAPI community. It is a visual language that requires non-traditional ways of seeing and interpretation.
This week, we have brought to you impressive artworks by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, Byron Kim, Bob Matsumoto, Felicia Liang, and also Vanilla Chi.
Inspired by their personal life events, these AAPI artists skillfully translate collective Asian American experiences into intriguing visuals through illustrations, painting, posters, and all art.
“I Still Believe in Our City,” Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya
The artists’ name might sound unfamiliar, but her artworks are phenomenal.
Phingbodhipakkiya’s arts have appeared in the Stop Asian Hate rally, the Atlantic Avenue terminal, and also many other public spaces throughout New York and around the world.
“I Still Believe in Our City” is not just an anti-hate campaign; it is also an empowering interpretation that aims to increase public awareness and express the beauty and resilience of the AAPI community through art.
“Despite everything that has happened to us, we are still here and we will continue to fight for our shared future.”Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, NBC News.
Phingbodhipakkiya emphasizes the practice of human rights in her creations. She is devoted to rendering the invisible visible.
She uses bright colors to contour the Asian identity and then enhances it with flowers and plants that are symbolic in Asian cultures. The bright colors and symbolic imagery translate racism against Asian Americans into visuals.
Her arts reveal that anti-Asian-American hate crimes and bias incidents are not fabricated events; they should thus not be covered up or ignored by the media. Her works also include portraits of Black people, serving as a statement that the Asian community is standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Synecdoche, Byron Kim
The term Synecdoche is a figure of speech. It refers to when a part of something refers to the whole of something. In Korean American artist Byron Kim’s project, however, the word is entrusted with more complex and thought-provoking layers.
Kim’s Synecdoche gives out an abstract feeling at first sight. The work looks like a simple grid of small monochromatic panel paintings. The story behind the painting, however, is quite touching.
Each color represents a portrait of the skin color of an individual who is related to Kim. His family, his friends, even strangers… In a way, Synecdoche is also an abstracted group portrait.
What does skin color represent for each individual? Who are these people beyond the color of their skin? To Kim, Synecdoche emanates a personal and political emotion.
The project itself, too, brings a sensitive and problematic reality to the spotlight. We can certainly equate our racial heritage with colors, yet it is doubtful our cultural images and identities can ever be accurately represented.
“Remembrance,” Bob Matsumoto
Japanese American artist Bob Matsumoto designed and created poster “Remembrance” in 2017. The art is to honor Japanese Americans who were forcibly uprooted and imprisoned during WWII.
In 1943, Matsumoto was only four years old when he was incarcerated in the Manzanar Relocation Center with his family. Although the event took place when Matsumoto was just a child, it has since left profound influence on shaping his perspectives of being a citizen of Japanese descent in America.
Matsumoto sees that experiences as a shameful chapter of American history; it is the reason why he considers fighting anti-Asian racism as lifelong purpose.
Remembrance – a pitch dark background decorated with the color of America, red, white, and blue – is a quiet yet powerful piece. It vividly visualizes the tension between allegiance and rejection, nationalism and otherness. The artwork is an attempt to remind America that if no changes take place, history will repeat itself.
“Remembrance. It’s a tribute to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, a symbol of the loss of freedom and dignity we suffered. It’s a bold reminder of our history. Never to be forgotten.”Bob Matsumoto, Art Center
#100DAYSIANS, Felicia Liang
Felicia Liang published a 100 Day Project about growing up Asian American and reinventing one’s cultural identity. #100Daysians began with Felicia’s idea of creating one drawing every day for 100 days.
The subjects in the project are all illustrated in colored pencils. They are just super mundane existences and yet contain important meanings to and memories of the Asian community.
Regular viewers might find the contents fun and interesting or simply look at them as an artistic expression. To members from the AAPI community, however, these are things that shape their cultural identities and constantly remind them of their roots.
“We will never be silent again,” Vanilla Chi
As it is written in the contents of the poster, the AAPI community is no longer keeping their voices to themselves. Chi makes this poster a statement of opposition to racism and a tribute to people who have endured it.
The poster includes many symbolic elements in Chinese culture. Each of them speaks a narrative and altogether compose a testament.
The most impressive quality of this poster is the artist’s brave attempt to use a stereotypical image as the protagonist who tells an archetypal immigrant story in the narrative. Through the power of words and visuals, Chi echoes the painful, frustrated, and rejected experiences that Asians have encountered throughout American history.
The poster is also made downloadable to the public.
Is it what we must endure?
Vietnamese American Poet and novelist Ocean Vuong once wrote, “The sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.”
Such beautiful description, especially in art, is so relatable to the experiences of the AAPI community. It is a necessary process for the AAPI community to undergo challenges and hardships before the day when their people are equally accepted and respected.
It would be a hell of a journey, but when they overcome, they will harvest hope and see beauty.