An Illustrated Exploration of Asian American Identity
Pearl River Mart, Mezzanine Gallery, 395 Broadway, Tribeca, NYC
August 12, 2017 - September 24, 2017
#100DAYSIANS is an illustrated 100 Day Project I started in 2016 to explore how various aspects of the Asian American experience shaped my identity. Each colored pencil drawing involved research, self-reflection, and candid conversations with other Asian Americans to tell stories meant to evoke a sense of curiosity and nostalgia. The other works explore similar themes, with many done in an unfinished style to draw attention to certain areas, but leave room for interpretation and introspection. Racial identity is nuanced, personal, and difficult to talk about, and art became a powerful channel for self-discovery.
Identity is shaped by one’s upbringing, which can include racial and cultural factors.
When I think back to my upbringing, food always first comes to mind. It’s a unique signifier for every culture and a universal language that brings people from all walks of life together. I’ve always loved my culture’s food, but only recently found that openly loving it is intertwined with loving myself and my heritage.
Identity is challenged through stereotyping — whether imposed by others, or internalized and imposed on oneself.
Model Minority Straitjackets
Like many Asian Americans, I have been confronted with assumptions based solely on my racial identity my entire life — I’m quiet, high-achieving, and extremely hard-working. I internalized some of these messages, which slowly chipped away at how I saw myself. Meeting these expectations made me exactly how everyone expected me to be, and not meeting them made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. I already experienced a sense of “other-ness” growing up Asian American in a predominantly white neighborhood, and by internalizing these differences and attributing them to other Asian Americans, I felt even further constrained and confused about who I was and where I belonged.
Identity can evolve through one’s choices, both consciously and subconsciously. My journey is far from over, as identity is ever-changing, and something that will continue to grow and transform with me.
This project helped me reconnect with my heritage and learn to fully love my “other-ness.” The research, self-reflection, and conversations I had throughout the project gave me the opportunity to relive my upbringing and dissect stereotypes, among other topics. Embracing my racial identity helped me uncover new facets about myself and opened my eyes to the breadth of diversity within the Asian American community.
Most importantly, it impacted how I see the world, particularly the role that race plays in shaping it. Choosing to opt into my Asian American identity and engaging with the Asian American community to highlight the importance of representation continues to inspire me to become a part of something bigger than myself.
I grew up seeing very few Asian American women in the media or in books and remember finding myself favoring darker haired heroines simply because they looked at least a little more like me. Seeing people who look like you, especially at a young age, can truly can impact how you see yourself. Representation matters.
I created this portrait series to showcase different Asian American females from a variety of backgrounds — each with her own backstory, and each one worth telling.