Art as Healing from Cultural Assimilation Pressures: an Asian-American Lens with Monyee Chau

  “Gung Hei Fat Boi”     This is a self portraiture series to queer this strange life of a new identity of Asian Americans influenced by their heritage and the westernized culture and the questioning of through a culturally important day. (   Alexbritphoto   )

“Gung Hei Fat Boi” This is a self portraiture series to queer this strange life of a new identity of Asian Americans influenced by their heritage and the westernized culture and the questioning of through a culturally important day. (Alexbritphoto)

 Lunar New Years photos styled and modeled by Monyee Chau and shot by Alexandria Britt.  (   Alexbritphoto   )

Lunar New Years photos styled and modeled by Monyee Chau and shot by Alexandria Britt. (Alexbritphoto)

Whether by fashion or sculptures, art has been commonly used as a platform to tell a story, usually about the creator themself or the world they live in. In both cases, culture has a huge influence on what artists create and the way in which they create.

We spoke with Monyee Chau, a queer Chinese-American artist based in Seattle who earned her BFA from Cornish College of the Arts. She gave us her take on the importance of storytelling through the intersections of art, culture, and identity.

On her upbringing from her website www.ChineseBornAmerican.com:

This eurocentric society was what made me feel ashamed of my cultural background when I was younger; now our history, stories, and language are aestheticized and fetishized.

My work is about decolonization; to take the reins back in telling the story of my family and my experiences, and to unapologetically take up the space back from surface level expressions that were created to try and exploit a culture that this society had whitewashed in the first place.

 
 Lauren Max captures Monyee at  Sun May Company in Seattle  for  City Arts Magazine .  (   Lauren Max Photo   )
 

Why is the intersection of art and culture important?

Art has always been a response on society and culture at the time. It’s not only important but it’s vital to understanding ourselves and others around us. It’s a form of storytelling which keeps all of us learning and acknowledging our past.

Thoughts on the normalization and appropriation of ideas society tends to deem as “taboo” or irregular?

I think it’s wonderful! I think there are a lot of things that society has taught us to be ashamed of, and unfortunately, our own bodies and sex are one of those things.

I started a series of Keith Haring-esque flat colored bodies with compositions that I’ve found in erotica and porn magazines to kind of illustrate that they are beautiful compositions and that naked bodies aren’t something to be afraid of.

It’s important to make audiences to be conscious and question things we are taught as a society.

 
 Monyee at  Pulchuck Glass School  in Washington where she found her love for sculpture and her journey of healing began.   (Monyee)

Monyee at Pulchuck Glass School in Washington where she found her love for sculpture and her journey of healing began. (Monyee)

 

When and how did you begin your artistic journey?

I have always, always wanted to be an artist. When I was very small I used to draw girls all the time. It evolved into tracing anime girls. Then I started to take private classes for technique, and then it all grew from there.

In my life I’ve dealt with trauma and also the pressures of assimilating and colonization, so throughout college I learned that art making became a form of healing for me, and that’s what it’s been for me since.

What is your source of inspiration?

I have a horrible time communicating with words. Growing up was difficult trying to understand my emotions and inner workings as a emotional and tender person. And I think there is a special thing that happens to me when people view my work, which is the ability to relate.

The most beautiful thing is when people come and talk to me about the work I made about acknowledging the labor of love from my ama (grandmother), and them sharing their stories of their grandmothers. I love sharing stories, I think this is the strongest part to building communities and bonding.

 
  “For Display Only”  was a 2016 live collaboration performance with  Mari Clark-Nagaoka  using wood, tyvek, screenprint, and embroidery. The project was open to the public to learn how to embroider while sharing personal stories.  [This was a project] to speak of the stories of the marginalized femmes of color in our society. Mari and Monyee sat together embroidering and traded experiences of fetishization, abuse, and discrimination they have experienced.    (Monyee/Mari)

“For Display Only” was a 2016 live collaboration performance with Mari Clark-Nagaoka using wood, tyvek, screenprint, and embroidery. The project was open to the public to learn how to embroider while sharing personal stories. [This was a project] to speak of the stories of the marginalized femmes of color in our society. Mari and Monyee sat together embroidering and traded experiences of fetishization, abuse, and discrimination they have experienced. (Monyee/Mari)

 

Any advice to those looking to create art with a narrative?

Do it. What ever you have to share with the world I promise that we want to hear it.

Sometimes I think what initially deters artists or people in general to make stuff is the pressure of it, and sometimes you just have to force yourself to start even if it’s garbage to begin with. Everything has to start somewhere.

 

Monyee uses art to tell her story; a story that others may be able to relate to; a story that may encourage others to practice what they believe in most regardless of societal or cultural norms. More importantly, her stories have the power to inspire and as a result, improve the well-being of people around her.

More of Monyee’s work

Monyee’s Art Instagram

Money’s Personal Instagram