Asian-American Artists Discuss How Art Has Changed Their Lives

This is what they had to say.

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Ben "BTEK" Chung of The Kinjaz

Courtesy of Ben Chung

What kind of art do you do?

I am a dancer/choreographer/fashion designer/studio co-owner/brand developer AKA a “dancerpreneur.”

What inspired you to start creating art?

I fell in love with music and dance at a very young age. I began dancing in high school, kept it up through college, pursued it professionally after graduating, and haven’t stopped ever since. I loved everything about the way dance made me feel. It was a way for me to get lost in music and movement, and in that perfect sweet spot of being completely immersed in it, nothing else mattered and I could be anything I wanted. I learned later that dance translates to people of all different walks of life and has the ability to inspire people to create and express themselves in ways that go beyond my understanding. That is the beautiful power of art.

How has art changed your life for the better?

It has given me an outlet not only to be myself, but also to connect with others. Once you can make a connection with someone without even having to exchange a word, that’s powerful. It has afforded me opportunities to turn my passion into my career. Though very unconventional in respect to my Asian cultural heritage (Korean to be exact), I have been able to convince my parents that there are other avenues of pursuing successful career paths that are outside of the box of being a lawyer or a doctor. You can look at pursuing art, or anything that you are passionate about for that matter, as carving your own path and finding a “new success” so to speak.

How has your art affected those around you / your community? How can we check out your art?

Through dance, we have been fortunate to become a voice and ambassadors for our dance community. We’ve gained mainstream media exposure through being finalists on MTV’s "America’s Best Dance Crew" Season 8, as well as continuing to engage an ever-growing audience through our YouTube channel. We have our own home and headquarters called The Kinjaz Dojo in Monterey Park, CA, where students can come take classes, learn, and train with the Kinjaz as well as with many other amazing teachers.

You can see what The Kinjaz are up to here and see what’s going on at the Dojo here.

Quyên Nguyen-Le

Courtesy of Quyên Nguyen-Le, Quyên Nguyen-Le

What kind of art do you do?

"Filmmaker."

What inspired you to start creating art?

"When I first started, it was about expressing myself as a marginalized person — a queer Southeast Asian woman of color from a refugee immigrant family. It was about representing stories that weren’t often told in mainstream channels. Nowadays, I think that has shifted because I am focusing more of my energy on making films for my communities rather than trying to tell others about who we are. I think there’s so much power in valuing ourselves not only as the presenters of stories, but as the audiences, too. Most people tend to think about it the other way around, but I think there is a lot of power in listening. Like, we’re not just showing something that already exists, you know? We are active on both sides of the conversation about the futures of the spaces we exist in!"

How has art changed your life for the better?

"Filmmaking has made me a more critically intentional in cultivating healthy interdependency with other people. I think it’s different than most other forms of art in this way: It’s hard to make a film by yourself, so inherently there is trust placed in a communal process and an understanding that other people are integral to my own creative energy. I think it has made me a more trusting person."

How has your art affected those around you / your community?

"Art is as much about the artist as it is about the communities the artist creates for and with. A few years ago, when I made my first deeply personal film, it was out of sheer loneliness that I knew no other queer Vietnamese people. And through the process of creating and screening the films, I’ve had the chance to connect to so many more people, some of whom even do the same kind of work! And now we know about each other and can help each other grow. It’s cool to know not only that films have a place in representing a community that already exists, but that it also contributes to cultivating and strengthening communities, too."

You can check out Quyên's art here.

Kevin Wada

Kevin Wada / Via kevinwada.tumblr.com, Kevin Wada / Via kevinwada.tumblr.com, Kevin Wada / Via kevinwada.tumblr.com

What kind of art do you do?

"I mainly do watercolor covers for comics."

What inspired you to start creating art?

"I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember. I was very fortunate to have parents that fostered my drawing interests all the way through college (a rarity in AA families). I remember drawing fairies and The Little Mermaid when I was very young, and these days it’s fashion and character design that inspire me."

How has art changed your life for the better?

"I often have to pinch myself and remind myself how lucky I am to be doing what I love for a career. It’s not something everyone gets to do, so I try to stay motivated and not take any second for granted. Art has given me a very clear sense of purpose from a very early age. I don’t know what I would be doing if not illustration."

How has your art affected those around you / your community?

"I would be lying if I said I was super connected to the art scene around me, but I live in San Francisco and for a few years there’s been a culture war between quirky, artsy, weird SF and the new industry of tech. The conversations and heat around this topic have waned, but I think art has helped to keep San Francisco’s vibrant identity alive."

You can check out Kevin Wada's art on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and here.

Sonia Rao

Nikki Rae / Via Sonia Rao

What kind of art do you do?

"I write and sing songs."

What inspired you to start creating art?

"After college, I was working at a consulting firm. I was probably 95% happy — I loved living in San Francisco, I loved my friends and coworkers, and the job was interesting. But there was this 5% curiosity for something different that kept popping its head up. One evening after work, I wanted to try to write a song. I had grown up learning violin, piano, and flute classically, but I’d never been creative with these instruments. In writing that first song, I fell in love with music again in a different, more personal way."

How has art changed your life for the better?

"I used to be extremely passive about things. I didn’t raise my hand in class or speak up much in conversations. And from little things like small talk to bigger things like career choices, I would let others speak and decide for me because I figured whatever I had to say or think, other people knew better than I did."

When I started writing songs, it was a very gradual process, but I started to realize, song by song, that I did have opinions and things to express, even if just to myself. Music woke me up. I started actually participating in my own life for the first time. It started with expressing myself in songs, but spread to other parts of my life too. I’m very grateful to have found songwriting for this reason."

How has your art affected those around you / your community?

"Growing up, I saw very few Asian-American artists. I think we can only become what we can see, so movies, ads, and TV shows play a huge role in shaping what we think is possible for ourselves. I think this is very slowly starting to change as more Asian-Americans choose to go into the arts and as the media start to show Asian-Americans in less stereotypical ways, but there is still a long way to go. I know I am only one person, but I hope that in a small way, my pursuing something that breaks stereotypes will contribute to this change."

You can check out Sonia's art here and her new album Meet Them at the Door on Spotify.

DANakaDAN

Courtesy of Dan Matthews

What kind of art do you do?

"I produce, tell stories, and create content for an Asian-Pacific-American online platform, ISAtv. I’m also an alternative rap artist. I write songs that speak to the Asian-American and Korean-Adoptee identity."

How has art changed your life for the better?


"I owe so much of my life to being able to pursue my passions. One of the more interesting outcomes that I like to think that pursuing art has led me to was meeting my biological family, including an identical twin brother I never knew about. We met about three years ago, and most interestingly enough, he too was a rapper. It’s crazy to think how DNA could impact something like that, especially within two different people raised simultaneously in different parts of the world. Pursuing rap led to me being invited to perform that summer in Korea, and because of that invite, I decided to look for my biological family and eventually was lucky enough to connect. To have that really intimate connection between the two of us is incredible. The world is smaller than we know."

How has your art affected those around you / your community?

"I like to think that the songs I write and videos I produce have had a positive impact on those around me and in my community. From the Asian-American side, I believe that through producing the videos that I’ve been proud to do through ISAtv, we’ve been able to support many up-and-coming or undiscovered artists in our community and give them a platform to have their voice be heard. One of our goals from the beginning was always to be a hub where up-and-coming artists could feel empowered and discovered. On the adoptee side, I believe that through the Korean adoptee documentary I made and the music I’ve produced, it’s given a voice to a community that’s seldom heard. I speak at adoption camps and conferences throughout the year, and it’s been really gratifying meeting younger adoptees who are able to relate to the content. I really find a lot of fulfillment knowing that, even if I didn’t have much to relate to when I was growing up, hopefully — even if it’s a small population — younger adoptees are finding this content and are finding inner peace with it. I’m actually working on and am about to release another documentary about the adoptee experience soon!"

You can check out Dan's art here.

Tell us about your art and how it's changed your life in the comments below!

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