Asian Creatives Discuss The Works and Creators That Most Inspire Them

·6 min read
Photo credit: Alice Morgan
Photo credit: Alice Morgan


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During this month, we celebrate the heritage of people of Asian and Pacific Island descent. Doing so isn’t just a firm commitment to creating a future that eradicates anti-Asian hate and challenges model minority myths, but it also entails a look back at the past to see how those cultures inform our present. The depth and variety of cultural production emanating from Asia and reverberating throughout global Diasporas have had a lasting impact on the art and design worlds. Many museums and galleries boast impressive collections that nod to those geographies and civilizations. More importantly, the Asian creatives behind art institutions and the creators of contemporary works are bringing fresh perspectives to notions of representation. From curators to comic book designers, creatives share who inspires their diverse body of work.

Dr. Jay Jie Xu

Director of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

Photo credit: Ryan Miller
Photo credit: Ryan Miller

Dr. Jay Jie Xu is the Director of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. According to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, he is the “First Chinese American director at a major US art museum and the first Asian American museum director elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.” He obtained a PhD in Chinese Art & Archeology from Princeton, making his unique interest in historical and fine art a sturdy backbone for AAM, an institution that has its hand in everything from modern art to multi & mixed media.

When asked about his inspiration, Xu identified a 3,000-year-old Chinese bronze statue (affectionately known as “Reina”) that is one of the most celebrated Chinese artworks in the world. “I was trained as a specialist in ancient metalwork, so it’s easily my favorite in our collection," he says. "Made for a king, and later owned by the philosopher Confucius’s family, Reina has a lively expression and naturalism that's unique—the craftsman had clearly seen a Rhinoceros before, and its original owner must have greatly enjoyed serving drinks from it during banquets and religious rituals. Such an appealing, human story that can speak to anybody’s interests: Archaeology? Technology? Spirituality? Even wine! This makes our rhino a masterpiece of Asian art, one that always inspires me to seek out what connects us across time, place, and culture.”

Photo credit: Asian Art Museum
Photo credit: Asian Art Museum

Tze Chun

Founder of Uprise Art

Photo credit: Tze Chun
Photo credit: Tze Chun

Tze Chun is the founder of Uprise Art, an online gallery that features original artwork by emerging contemporary artists. Her team of in-house art advisors curates for individuals, corporate collections, and architectural projects around the world. Uprise Art is a women-led company and more than half of its represented roster consists of female artists. Chun lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

One of her art inspirations is Judy Chicago, who created the masterpiece The Dinner Party in a collaborative process with more than 400 other women and also started the first college feminist art program in the U.S.

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Her other inspiration is her friend, Rujeko Hockley, who cocurated the 2019 Whitney Biennial and has been championing diverse voices in the art world for years. (She also cocurated the deeply moving exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 at the Brooklyn Museum in 2017). Hockley is currently an Assistant Curator at the Whitney.

Aragna Ker

Adaptive Design Manager

Photo credit: Aragna Ker
Photo credit: Aragna Ker

Aragna Ker was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1974 and immigrated to Southern California at the age of six. He studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and received his MFA in Sculpture at Claremont Graduate University. His playful works fuse cultural symbols and myth to explore hybrid identities. His drawings and sculptures have been exhibited at the Hammer Museum, Pacific Asian Art Museum, and the Torrance Art Museum, among others. Now he is employed as the Adaptive Design Manager for United Cerebral Palsy Los Angeles, at the Washington Reid Gallery in Culver City, which specializes in developing art centered programming for adults with disabilities.

Photo credit: Aragna Ker
Photo credit: Aragna Ker

Ker draws a lot of comic book inspiration from Philipino-born Canadian artist Mike del Mundo, Korean-American Jae Lee, and Filipino-American Whilce Portacio. In the fine arts, he has learned a great deal by drawing from American sculptor Ruth Asawa, Chinese “artivist” Ai Weiwei, Chinese-born artist Cai Guo-Qiang, and Japanese contemporary artists Yayoi Kusama.

He also appreciates his contemporaries who engage in a number of different mediums and challenge cultural norms. He went to undergrad with Kehinde Wiley and admires the likes of Yinka Shonibare in the UK, Gabriel Orozco of Mexico, and Sopheaph Pich, who is Cambodian-American and lives in Phnom Penh.

Mathushaa Sagthidas

Photographer

Photo credit: Mathushaa Sagthidas
Photo credit: Mathushaa Sagthidas

Mathushaa Sagthidas is a London-based photographer who showcases fine art, fashion, and styling. Her work “examines her identity - Tamil Eelam ethnicity and British nationality,” which is always at play in her projects. She’s been inspired by her parents’ history and she uses that to redefine south Asian identity in her visual productions. Her photos have reached Fashion Scout and MESA, among others.

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She draws artistic inspiration of other South Asian female creatives, like Nina Mangalanayagam, a Sri-Lankan and Swedish artist who works in still and moving images; Anisha Parmar a UK-based jewelry designer who uses South Asian heritage motifs in her unique accessories brand; and Pushpamala N, a performance artist based in Bangalore, India.

Oanh

Pop Art Creator

Photo credit: Oanh
Photo credit: Oanh

Self-identified as Vietnamese/Chinese-American, Oanh is an emerging pop art creator who is soon set to graduate from The City College of New York. The Brooklyn-based designer sells social justice stickers, prints, acrylic pins, along with a few Asian inspired pieces on her Etsy and Instagramaccounts. In addition to being insanely adorable, her wares are all dedicated to good causes. So far, she has donated the proceeds to over ten different nonprofit organizations and has no plans to let up any time soon.

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She was inspired by the groundswell of social justice arts circulating across the U.S. last summer. Without those muralists, graffiti taggers, and digital artists, she never would have opened her own online shop. She especially loves the Instagrammers @_thepeachfuzz, @lisakogawa_, and @felicitytsee.

Pauline Carrasco Cuevas

Artist

Photo credit: Pauline C Cuevas
Photo credit: Pauline C Cuevas

Pauline Carrasco Cuevas is an artist living in San Diego. She was raised in Manila, Philippines until she was 14 years old. “I have always loved to draw and everything I make is influenced by my upbringing and my memories of living in Manila," she says. "I am inspired by our rich culture, our food, and nature. Now, living in the U.S., I appreciate the uniqueness of our Filipino culture. My goal is to bring our culture to life in my own way through my art.” Like Oanh, Cuevas’s Instagram is one of the best places to find both her work and her inspirations.

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She admires the Filipino fashion designer Lesley Mobo, Filipina illustrator and graphic designer Raxenne Maniquiz, and Indonesian contemporary artist, Eko Nugroho.

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Nafeesah Allen is an independent researcher with an interest in literature, gender, and diaspora studies in the global South. In 2019, she completed her Ph.D. in Forced Migration from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa. She leads BlackHistoryBookshelf.com, a book review website that highlights global Black histories organized by language, theme, and country. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @theblaxpat.

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