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    10 Asian American Female Artists You Should Know

    Visual artists of AAWAA are bringing awareness to Asian-American culture and feminism. Engage with the work, and see how each artist's activism, perspective, and creativity is transformed into expressions of fine art.

    1. Ellen Bepp

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    Ellen Bepp is a mixed media and textile artist and taiko (Japanese drum) musician. She has endeavored to give voice to her Japanese cultural roots, to honor nature, and to address political concerns through visual expression and the language of the drum. Her work has spanned a range of media from painting to wearable art, installations, theatrical costume and set design, collage and hand cut paper. Her interest in the arts of Asia and Latin America led to her involvement in humanitarian projects and textile research in indigenous communities of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Mexico. She continues to explore the connection between art and culture of these civilizations as they inform her identity as an Asian American woman artist.

    "My work is shaped by an array of cultural influences but mainly by my Japanese ethnic roots. Growing up as a third generation Japanese American, I was surrounded by traditional art and textiles and also came to develop a kinship with pre-Columbian art of Latin America. This connection animates my mixed media work that merges past and present with social, political and emotional elements. For me each scrap of fabric or paper is a metaphor for identity and personal memory that is at the core of my art."

    2. Judy Shintani


    Judy Shintani is known as Narrator of Culture. The unspoken compels her to create. She believes art leads us in a search for our connection and our identity. Shintani's work depicts family stories, honors Japanese American history, showcases women's issues, and offers viewers ways to participate and become art collaborators. She works with found objects, organic materials, video, words, and most recently with cultural clothing, to create assemblages and installations.

    "In the 1940s my family’s only crime was having the face of the enemy. They were incarcerated for four years at Tule Lake Segregation Camp along with 120,000 others of Japanese descent. Making art about the unjust imprisonment of families of Japanese descent is my healing and meditation - for my family, ancestors, culture, and America. It brings to light unspoken and unreleased issues around this discriminatory history. Why do I continue making art about something that happened 75 years ago? Central American families are still unjustly imprisoned in detention centers in Texas. Refugees and immigrants are still discriminated against all over the world. African Americans are racially profiled and killed by police. Recently politicians suggested that immigrants should be interned like the Japanese Americans were in the ’40’s. Engaging younger generations about past wrongdoing while drawing parallels to current injustices, helps them better understand their world and choose how to navigate it."

    3. Miss TANGQ


    MissTANGQ's work as an educator serving diverse communities has led her to study Chinese metaphysics and philosophy as instruments for healing and self-development. She utilizes these ancient technologies to explore the intersections of nature, the human spirit and mysticism in her work. These themes also reflect the queer and immigrant experience, which for her, seeks to transform what has been inherited by society and culture into a creative undertaking of self-creation.

    As a Chinese-American multi-media artist, and first-generation "mystic-nerd", she is deeply inspired by the hyphenated experience and explores this through animation, installation, and performance art to create cross-sensory and interdisciplinary work. She believes that activating multi-sensory perception creates new possibilities within our imagination, allowing for a remix of our current and future understanding of ourselves and our potential.

    4. Cindy Shih


    Cindy Shih's paintings have been described as accessible, eerily thought-provoking— but most poignantly, harbors a haunting, dark undercurrent which she believes, speaks to the repressive nature of what it takes to succeed in this world as a "model minority."

    "My art draws from my personal experience, but aims to give voice and connect with others through a shared narrative. I am inspired by ordinary women who have simply existed, persevered, and endured societal pressures to empower me to create. And I am motivated: because I am finally seeing feminism evolve past a faceless, mass movement, into a global emergence of individuals. Art does not need to be complacent to its contemporary labels. Nothing is more intrinsically rewarding to me than that brief, powerful moment when my work transcends, connects, and communicates a shared understanding between me and another human being. Those are my moments of immense and overwhelming gratitude. This is how I want to make my mark, its what keeps me determined, and this is how I feel Art can bring positive change."

    "I grew up in a model immigrant Chinese family who wanted me the best contradictions for me: to be self sufficient in order to find a sugar daddy, and to be a free-thinking woman so I could successfully assimilate to society. Up into my thirties, things looked good: I had a great job at Google and was engaged to a nice, Chinese boy from a wonderful family. Then, one day, I took a mallet to the illusion, shattered my world, and I became a painter. I painted because it gave me a voice I never knew I had before, I painted because I no longer wanted to be silent. I wanted to be the voice for the generations of strong, educated women in my family who coped with mental illness, and years of physical and emotional abuse. I wanted to scream at the hypocrisy in the way I was lovingly raised to be,"someone else's wife," and I was no longer satisfied with silently living up to someone else's expectations. I wanted to contribute more as an individual, as a woman, and as a citizen. I decided that as an artist, I can do much more than just voice my concerns: I could be the hands that shape the definition of Art and pave the way for generations to come."

    5. Yoshie Sakai


    Yoshie Sakai is a multidisciplinary artist, including video, sculpture, installation, and performance. She has been immersed in how her 81-year-old, first generation Japanese mother entertains herself, which is by watching hours of East-Asian soap operas daily because it is “what she lives for.” She explains how her latest work activates soap opera tropes to challenge the myth of the “model minority” to reveal the complexities that lie underneath the guise of superficial “perfection” of being both Asian-American and a woman.

    "My work creates an uneasy environment that embodies my love-hate relationship with consumerism and pop culture and how they simultaneously perpetuate both ecstasy and extreme anxiety in quotidian life. In my videos, I act as an undercover agent trying to expose the absurdities of a manipulative social structure while at the same time humorously struggling and reveling in it as a participant. My process includes performance. I often create characters that function as avatars that act out responses to contemporary society, addressing the social, cultural, and personal. I induce intimate situations between my created personalities and the audience by staging my videos within installations that are pushed to exaggerated and imaginative levels. My videos and installations infiltrate the psychological and physical space of the viewer, giving form to a sort of vulnerability – a nervous laughter. People often ask, "Why are you so happy all of the time?" and my response is "It's better than crying." Ultimately, in my work I would like to continue the exploration of humor as a complicated intersection where hope, happiness, anxiety, and darkness reside much like our society, a tension-filled existence of both criticality and complacency."

    6. Fumiyo Yoshikawa


    Fumiyo Yoshikawa is from Kyoto, Japan, where she studied the traditional methods of Nihonga painting. This traditional Japanese painting includes many natural paints and washes to create luminous layers of color. She infuses her paintings with her Japanese memories and new impressions from the different cultures she has encountered. She explains "I view the production process as my meditation and a joyous journey, and that is one of my goals in creating art. It is an art form created by soul and body together. More recently I utilize a combination of Sumi-e and Nihonga methods in one painting."

    "I am fascinated by the birth and passing of life by all creatures in the universe, their coexistence, infinite cycle of life energy and ecosystems. I resonate with the Eastern thought of 'All creatures in heaven and on earth come from the same root as myself' and ' All things and I are of one substance.' I imagine that the memory and consciousness of living things from a distant past are in a cycle, similar to an ecosystem. Perhaps my strange memories from dreams or reality are coming from my deepest consciousness. It is curious to imagine that my deepest consciousness is connected to karma from my parents and prior generations, and to consciousness/unconsciousness of other people around me, as well as to the memory shared by this natural world. If such shared memory exists, I wonder in what shape or color? I ponder these thoughts while applying ink and paint on the paper surface. What spreads before me is a nearly random pattern, and I might see something that stirs the imagination. It may be an abstract shape or line, or perhaps a specific form that appears in my mind. That form is projected in my artwork. After such creative process, I find pleasure in imagining that my artwork will occupy a corner in a viewer's memory and become a piece of that person's deeper consciousness. In this way, I feel my artwork can be shared even unknowingly among people and perhaps appear in their dreams."

    7. Lenore Chinn


    Lenore Chinn is a Chinese American artist who focuses on the depiction of a wide spectrum of people in all their diversity and color. Portraiture is at the core of her visual art practice whether it is painting or photography—both are employed in her creative process. As a body of work they are visual narratives that constitute an art history largely hidden from the public's perception of society and our particular collective experience. "Just Chinese Enough: The Art of Lenore Chinn and Bob Hsiang" extends the boundaries and definitions of what it means to be an artist of Chinese descent in America.

    "My signature paintings, with their super realistic, crisply rendered compositions convey a subtle message of visibility for the socially and politically disenfranchised peoples in my personal social landscape - people of color, women, lesbians, and gay men. In my oversized acrylics on canvas I explore a genre that is largely invisible in the fine arts. Through character studies in contemporary themes I restore cultural difference to center stage, creating a presence which resonates in its luminosity, texture, color and light. While enticing the viewer with a non-confrontational aesthetic these narratives simultaneously challenge old world views and compel a rethinking of how we define society's others."

    8. Reiko Fujii


    Reiko Fujii is a Japanese American artist, who's self-discovery centers on her heritage. Her empathetic investigation of how immigration, isolation, culture, gender issues, and imprisonment affected her ancestors and influence future generations is not unlike the study an anthropologist would conduct. Thus, she feels that these stories must be told for transformation to occur.

    "My artwork is an inherent part of my process. It has led me to the lands of my ancestors and revealed the rich culture and history which has been imprinted on my being. With a sensitive heart, an artist’s eye and a determined interest in passing on stories of my Japanese American upbringing to the next generations, I encapsulate snippets of the ordinary and not so ordinary in installations, video, performances, fused glass, and handmade books. This documentation helps preserve these Japanese and American experiences as each subsequent generation becomes further removed from their ancestral roots. My multimedia interdisciplinary technique of expressing myself inspires me to creatively share stories, which go beyond the personal and touch the universal of who we are and from where we came. My glass ancestral kimonos and their documentation are integral pieces of my art as life. They led me on a journey to Japan, where I connected with relatives and experienced our common heritage. The kimonos have also strengthened the bond with my daughter as we perform together, each wearing our ancestral kimonos, celebrating the connection of one generation to the next."

    9. Cynthia Tom


    Cynthia Tom (AAWAA Board President) uses her work to explore issues of gender, equality and the human mind. Her unique paintings reflect the vibrancy and the passion of the artist. As a third generation Chinese American, she is passionate about social justice and playing with the accepted norm. A seeker and philosopher about women’s issues, her work is known to some as Cultural Surrealism and often portrays minority women in extraordinary situations.

    She is also founder and director of A Place of Her Own, an arts healing residency providing trauma-informed transformation for women. Cultural surrealism, intuitive, and powerful are often used to describe her paintings and mixed media installations. She lectures on women’s issues, feminism, Asian American women in the arts, and her work. Cynthia has won numerous awards for her art and leadership.

    10. Betty Kano

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    Betty Kano, a Japanese immigrant, founded Asian American Artists Association to express Advocacy, Visibility, and Mentorship. This organization has consistently promoted both regional and national efforts to achieve its mission, defining and redefining the contributions of Asian American women artists since its inception in 1988. As a Japanese female artist, she has pushed many boundaries in her efforts to educate, create, and curate visual art on the basis of activism.

    "Painting is a way in this world to communicate with neglected spirits, spirits that crisscross through consciousness and reveal themselves as destiny. Cuba’s Havana Bienal exposed me to an art of a spiritual (and political) manifestation and I was inspired to seek Ifa, the liturgy of Yoruba of Nigeria, for this way to honor the spirits and the deities of the Yoruba pantheon, an indigenous tradition that is also global."