Well, it’s only been a year and a half … why not start blogging again? I thought brightly. Then I realized there is a staggering amount to catch up on—which I’ll try to keep brief—but let’s start with the future: I have new work in two shows in Seattle this month.

The first is at ARTS at King Street Station, First Thursday (Nov. 7), from 5pm to 7pm. The theme is “Brighter Future,” which is a liberational concept that I liked, except that all my work is dark and pessimistic, so it took a while to find an appropriate piece. It turned out to be this large-ish gouache on paper piece, “Beyond the Time Being.”

72402130_2941726092521348_955551535264169984_n The second show is at Vermillion, Second Thursday (Nov. 14), from 6pm to 9pm. The theme is “Listen,” which is “about granting the human need to be heard and validated. … Listen reminds us of the humanity in each of us and the universal bond that is suffering.” Here is more information on the event and how to get involved. 

What I appreciate about both shows is they center artists of color, and in the case of “Listen,” women artists of color. This aligns with my racial activism work, which has involved most recently working on the Racial Equity Toolkit Team. Here’s the part where I need to catch up a bit.

In the summer of 2018, I got a job as a member of the Racial Equity Toolkit Team, a group of City of Seattle employees and community members that was commissioned by members of the Seattle City Council to audit the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR). If you peek at the department’s website, you’ll find pages and pages of info, which would take hours to sift through. Somehow, the City felt an audit on its responsibilities, role, and structure would take a mere half of a year to accomplish. Wrong. It took more than a year and was one of the most arduous projects most of us had worked on. I’ll stop there and introduce the members of my team, all of whom I grew to love (and sketch during meetings).

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The team’s mission was to apply a Racial Equity Toolkit, a methodology used to ideally disrupt institutional racism, on the entire SOCR department. A crucial part of the process is gathering community feedback in order to center the most marginalized communities of color and, ultimately, ensure racial equity. The subcommittee I was on traveled all over Seattle, asking people about what they knew of the department and how it could be more accountable to community. Another group interviewed City employees, since they are also part of community. Afterward, we analyzed the data and, working in conjunction with Government Alliance on Race and Equity, drew up an intensive 200-plus-page report with our recommendations for City Council.

As a writer on the report, I focused on the Land Acknowledgment (it’s critical to always be aware that we are on stolen and occupied land), the history of racism in Seattle (which could have been an entire tome), and the history of antiracist organizing in Seattle. The latter was the most inspiring part, for me, which leads to another pertinent subject: the Seattle Black Panther Party mural.

Back in February 2018, a good friend of mine asked me whether I’d like to be an artist-mentor for the new art club she was advising at Seattle’s Franklin High School. Its name instantly resonated with me: the Art of Resistance & Resilience. I’d just come back from showing at Sotheby’s, an experience I found both gratifying and weirdly alienating, and was eager to work with high school students on a large-scale project. Together, we painted a 40-foot mural that honored the 50th anniversary of the Seattle Black Panther Party Chapter. The experience was extraordinary, witnessing how dedicated and politically astute these kids were and also meeting some of the Black Panthers themselves.

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Here are the kids painting from photos after school. My friend, Lauren Holloway, is on the right, advising. She was careful to center the students, community, and the Black Panthers throughout the entire project, which is really what made is successful.

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This was the part I was responsible for. It was such an honor to be painting these Black revolutionaries, who loved their community so much that they were willing to die fighting. It’s important to note that Louie Gong, founder of the incredible Native American company Eighth Generation, generously allowed us to move the mural to his studio during Winter Break so we could continue working on it. (His painting can be seen in the upper right corner.)

73270392_2985542544806369_4181308438279618560_o.jpgThe mural now hangs on the outside of the school fence, at the intersection of Rainier and MLK. It’s a show-stopper, and even the Black Panther members have approved of it. Recently, both the mural and the art club were even mentioned in the New York Times

Earlier this year, I got to work with Art of Resistance & Resilience again on the stage set of Don’t Call It a Riot, by Aurore Amontaine. The students were paid for their work, and the background panels turned out gorgeous. Aurore stands in front of the set below.

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Around this time, I was offered the opportunity to contribute to a mural for my favorite radio station, KEXP, for their “Six Degrees of Prince” program. Based loosely around the theme of Prince, the music spanned from punk to hip-hop in a seamless way for 12 hours—no easy feat for the DJs or the mural artists that had to keep up, illustrating the song titles and artists. We each had a two-hour chunk of time, but I teamed up for an additional two more hours, collaborating with my friend Connie Ostrowski. Here are some photos; more can be seen here.

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As you can see above, Connie’s and my style dovetailed nicely.

Well, that wraps it up. Gotta go finish my painting for the second show this month (confirming that artists do, indeed, work up until the last minute). Thanks for reading and check out my most recent work on Instagram!

This pic was taken in Sotheby’s, the famous auction house founded in 1744, in the heart of Manhattan. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I’d have a piece in a show there.

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But it turns out, I did—in the AD ART SHOW last February.

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AD ART SHOW, organized by MvVO, took up two floors of Sotheby’s. It was hung like a museum show, rather than a gallery, thanks to curator Isaac Aden.

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MvVO is an organization whose intent is to create opportunities for artists by negotiating the junction of art and commerce. The show itself featured an international roster of artists, including a few luminaries from the advertising world.

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My piece, to the right of the sculpture, had a luxurious amount of space around it.

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Below is the piece I had in the show: “Camp” (2012). Consisting of loops of used Scotch tape on paper, this conceptual collage is a meditation on both the tenacity of internment camp survivors and the erosion of their cultural/racial identities. The ample white space and grid formation are meant to suggest the geographic isolation of these military-run camps.

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This is one of many conceptual collage pieces I’ve made around racial politics, using everyday materials. You can see more on my website here.

The opening to the show was packed; it seemed like the NYC art world was out in full resplendence. It had been 24 years since I’d last been in Manhattan, and I was completely smitten at the scale, magnitude, and density of the city. It was mind-boggling to me that I was standing on the polished floors of one of the most venerable auction houses in the world with a piece on display.

I never forget my humble roots in Seattle, showing at cafes, then eventually the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and a few well-known galleries.

Soon I’ll have 15 pieces for sale on Artsy Premium, where global collectors go. It’s exciting (and a bit nerve-wracking) to be entering this arena, but I’m thankful for the opportunity and will see how it goes.

But in the meantime, I’m enjoying working with Franklin High School art club students on a mural commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Seattle Black Panther Party. These diverse kids are such an inspiration, and it’s a gift to be able to work alongside them and Lauren Holloway, the organizer of the Art of Resistance & Resilience club to which they belong.

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(pic by Lauren Holloway)

The art world is its own interesting organism, but community activism is vital. I’m in the odd position of straddling both right now, but so far, so good!

It’s been a while. The ghastly political climate in America has made me temporarily give up on any creative activity (including this blog!). Instead, I’ve been using all my energy on activism, in the streets, in the community, and at my job, where I cofounded an inclusion initiative.

However, I did manage to write a review for Alison MacLeod’s All the Beloved Ghosts for the Los Angeles Review of Books earlier this year. You can read it here.

And I have a commissioned painting, featured in a global ad campaign for Lumicor, that appeared in Interior Design. Its orientation has changed, and it’s cropped, but you can still get a sense of the piece.

Interior Design spread

Well, that’s one minimal post, I’m afraid, but my creativity is virtually nonexistent (which is ironic, since it follows my most artistically successful year yet). Hopefully I’ll recover from the horrifying national crisis the Trump administration has put us in, and become more productive again soon!

Yeah, we’re not talking about the election. Instead, I’m just doubling down on my activism.

Like doing a lot of this.
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Black Lives Matter Not Black Friday protest, downtown Seattle, Nov. 25, 2016 (photo by me)

But also making art about racial politics and helping center people of color. For this reason, I’m happy to be included in this group show in Tacoma, Washington:

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Organized by the CultureShock Collective, High Blood features all artists of color (I’m just waiting for a Trump supporter to start bawling about anti-white discrimination—they can cry me a motherfucking river).

Already there have been favorable reviews in Tacoma’s News Tribune and the International Examiner, and I’m honored to have my work mentioned in both. The show is pioneering and will hopefully kick off a more serious discussion about inclusivity in the Northwest art scene.

In addition, I have a multimedia piece (which had been at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience) in this group show at North Seattle College Art Gallery, which opens tomorrow.

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If you find yourself north or south of Seattle, I encourage you to check out either show!

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind.

Two pieces from my show, Rebirth, sold: portraits of two of the youngest subjects, Trayvon Martin and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. I was relieved that they went to a good home, where these children could be seen and honored every day.

In addition, a commissioned painting of mine is on the site of Lumicor, an architectural panel company. (See below) And finally, I’ve been in talks about two group shows next month.

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Above left: the original piece. Above right: the painting in the print catalog

So I’m late in posting this great interview I had with Xavier Lopez, Jr., who writes an arts and culture blog for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Please check it out here.

The interview with Laura Castellanos that we mention in the last part can be found here.

 

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Above: a chalk portrait of Sandra Bland

Tonight my fifth solo show opens, this time at Vermillion. I wanted to honor the police murder victims of Black Lives Matter, so I returned to figurative portraiture, a departure from the largely abstract work of the past decade.

The name of the show is “Rebirth.” To counterbalance the hatred and racial violence in today’s world, my aim was to create a meditative, healing space to honor the Black victims of police murders. Using classroom chalk, I drew portraits of 14 of them from a composite of photos sourced online.

The individuals featured are Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Meagan Hockaday, Alton Sterling, Korryn Gaines, Philando Castile, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Oscar Grant, Nizah Morris, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and Yvette Smith. Also included is Trayvon Martin because his murder was what inspired Black Lives Matter. In the back of the gallery, these people’s stories are posted, along with information on Black liberation organizations, including Black Lives MatterEnding the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) Seattle, and Black Community Impact Alliance, as a call to action. It’s not enough to simply read about these people; we need to fight against police brutality and support marginalized communities.

Drawing someone in chalk is a delicate and tender process. You observe every minute contour of their face. You understand that this person was vital, multifaceted, funny—so much more than a name in the news. Moreover, this person left behind a void that is still felt among their loved ones and their communities. You realize, in drawing them, that you deeply care. And it becomes evident that remembrance, particularly in a portrait, is a kind of rebirth.

What brought me to tears was working on the eyes of 7-year-old Aiyana, the youngest police victim in the group. “We failed you,” I kept thinking. She and the countless people gunned down by police officers should be here today. We need to do better. We need to address police accountability, open-carry laws, overpolicing in Black communities, and all the racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia attendant in American society.

A significant element in many Black religious communities, water is collected in a bowl at the end of the gallery as a symbol of purification and rebirth. In acting as an inherent threat to the chalk drawings, it carries a reminder of the fragility of life and memory.

I want to thank Davida Ingram, Blu the Baqi, Sooja Kelsey, Eva Abrams, Inye Wokoma, and Erwin Thomas for all of their insights and guidance on this project.

Vermillion is donating 10% of its profits to Black Lives Matter; I’m donating all my profits to Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) Seattle.

Show info:
Rebirth, a show honoring Black Lives Matter
Vermillion
1508 11th Ave, Seattle, WA
Opens Sept. 8, 6 to 9PM
Closes Oct. 8

 

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My review of Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love is now published in the Los Angeles Review of Books! You can read it here.

The crazy thing is, the deadline for this long-form piece nearly coincided with the opening to my solo show last month. But the opportunity to write for this esteemed literary and arts journal was too good to resist.

It turns out Alain de Botton will be visiting Seattle this week to promote this book. Having consumed a vast amount of his work for the review, I’ll be very interested to see him speak in person.

Here’s the information:

Alain de Botton Reads from The Course of Love
Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 7–8:30 p.m.
Seattle Public Central Library, Microsoft Auditorium
1000 4th Ave
FREE

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My piece, Slippage, in The Stranger‘s Art & Performance Spring 2016 magazine (above, right)

Some days you think you’re going to go wrangle with the electricity company over a billing issue, and then something entirely unexpected and magical happens. In my case, I received a text notifying me that my art was in the latest issue of The Stranger, a popular weekly paper in Seattle. I thought, “Well, fuck the double charge on that bill—they can triple-charge me, for all I care. Right now I’m off to get a paper!”

Then I sprinted down to the coffeehouse in the lobby of my office building, grabbed a paper, and retreated to a quiet place to look through it. The artwork in question was in the periodical’s quarterly Art & Performance magazine. The guide provides a comprehensive list of all arts events going on that season; the Visual Arts section alone contained more than 200 exhibitions and shows.

Right there, on page 23, was my piece, Slippage. I felt almost numb with disbelief. There were only five image slots available in that section; three of them promoted museum shows, including that of international art star Kehinde Wiley, and another showed the work of local legend Norman Lundin. Then there’s this unknown artist, Yoona Lee. The one squarely outside the Seattle arts community, the one who toiled in relative obscurity for 16 long years to get the show of her dreams.

That was my painting right there, and the caption made me gasp. “Why you should see it: Because [Yoona] can transform everyday materials into smart meditations on racial politics.” They understood me. They got to the heart of what I was doing.

Slippage itself was created by cutting a slit in the cellophane covering a store-bought stretched canvas and pouring Sumi ink into it. The piece is about the infiltration of the Other’s, or minority’s, perspective into a previously white and sacrosanct canon—a phenomenon as unstoppable as ink across a blank canvas. I last showed it at the 2015 Arts & Social Change Showcase.

My upcoming show at Ghost Gallery will include this work and others. Titled Run Race Ragged: Three Takes on Racial Politics in America, the show will feature a wide breadth of work: big, visceral abstract paintings, smaller conceptual mixed-media collage, and at least one figurative drawing. It will open May 12, the night of Seattle’s Capitol Hill Art Walk. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by. Details below.

Run Race Ragged: Three Takes on Racial Politics in America
Ghost Gallery
Opening May 12, 5 to 9PM
On view through June 6
504 E. Denny Way
(corner of E. Denny Way and Summit/Olive, entryway to right of Hillcrest Market)

My website: http://www.rhymeswithrace.com/

On November 27, the Black Lives Matter, Not Black Friday protest shook up the retail core of Seattle. I stayed for as long as I could and documented it.

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1 PM: Signs in Century Square, the de facto heart of the retail district.

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Protesters strain to hear the speaker’s bullhorns over the blare of Christmas carols, Century Square.

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Holiday shoppers watch the protest from the safety of Westlake Center, a popular downtown mall.

Blocking intersection_mic checkSeveral hundred demonstrators occupied intersections while POC (people of color) speakers used an Occupy-style “human microphone” to spread their message.

Blocking intersectionDisrupting traffic in Seattle: some motorists were frustrated, while others were empathetic and waited patiently.

WP_20151127_096Occupying a popular intersection beside corporate retailer Nordstrom—fuck the holiday season, start a revolution!

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3 PM: First attempt to get into Westlake Center, at the north entrance …

Altercation_Westlake Ctr… which doesn’t end well (cops 1, POC 0)–the first arrest of four arrests made that day.

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The crowd of protesters was diverse, with many white allies.

Cops and WTFAn attempt by protesters to enter Pacific Place, an upscale shopping center, brings cops–and a few incongruous self-designated “superheroes” (costumed vigilantes).

Forever 21 protestProtesters occupied all four floors of Forever 21, a corporate retailer guilty of unethical practices.

The organizers of protest4:15 PM: A quick conversation, as police block off streets, before heading to Westlake Center for the tree lighting–and the latter half of the protest.

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The Slog, the daily blog run by The Stranger (one of Seattle’s weekly papers), covered the protest and captured, among many other people, me (in dark glasses, foreground). I lost most of my voice shouting and leading chants.

I need to figure out how to upload some video footage here. It features protesters infiltrating Macy’s, even as a security guard tried to shut its doors, and occupying Forever 21. At the latter store, I was right behind one of the march’s organizers when she simply and miraculously opened one of its doors and said, “Come on in.” Then we all swept in—an unstoppable tide of people that took about 15 minutes to all get through the door. We rode the escalators to the top of the store, shouting chants like “Black lives matter, not this shit.” Shoppers were flummoxed or pretended to ignore us while scurrying to the dressing rooms, but a few pumped their fists in solidarity.

The Black Lives Matter march went on to effectively disrupt the tree lighting ceremony and finally infiltrate the two downtown malls. Some great photos and coverage can be found here. Four arrests were made, but there were no blast balls, tear gas, or major violence like I’d experienced during the WTO. And unlike the Martin Luther King Day Black Lives Matter march earlier this year, it didn’t end in the cops going crazy with the pepper spray. So in that respect, the protest was a relative success. However, many white shoppers became irate, completely overlooking the point of the protest: black lives matter more than consumerism.

Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Tanisha Anderson. LaQuan McDonald. The countless unnamed by the media.

So many. Too many. Black lives matter. Say it with me—not all lives matter”—that’s also true but missing the goddamn point here.

Black lives. All of them. Protected and respected. That may sound like a liberational fantasy, but that’s what protests like these are working toward.

Affecting corporate retailers—America’s money—like Chicago’s protesters did on North Michigan Avenue, is the best way of getting attention and pointing to where the real value lies. Not in 40% off the Kindle Unlimited, but in the black lives lost and those that need to be fiercely and lovingly cherished and preserved.

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Book burning
So my paternal great-grandfather had his share of bad days, dragging his son around by the hair and trying to set fire to his own home. But believe it or not, he was a successful and well-educated landowner. In fact, the Korean government (who were actually Japanese, since it was during the occupation*) was so impressed with him that they sent him to Tokyo to study economic systems and policies. His task was to come back with suggestions for the betterment of Korea—because obviously Japan was a very enlightened country with progressive ideas, like the best ways to brutally occupy lesser nations.

My great-grandfather came to Japan, saw, and was conquered (already), and he returned to Korea with one major recommendation: abolish slavery for good. (Yes, Japan supposedly disavowed slavery as an institution, even as it was busily establishing systems of forced labor for comfort women, POWs, and Korean civilians. Go figure.) Large landowners in Korea, including my great-grandfather, still owned slaves—mainly impoverished Korean peasants and farmers—in spite of earlier reforms.

Back in his hometown of Yong-Yang, Great-Grandfather Cho decided to set an example by liberating his own slaves, to much rejoicing and confusion in his household. Then he marched over to the town hall, where he collected all the official slave registry books. Carrying these heavy ledgers to the center of town, he dumped them on the ground and set them on fire.

Many Koreans were emancipated that day, but it took 35 years—and larger fires—to ultimately free Korea from Japanese rule.

*The language of the colonizers still lives on in the home of my parents, who were barred from speaking Korean in their childhood. They still unthinkingly use the Japanese words for common household objects like toothpicks, onions, and underpants … and as their child, so do I!

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Shoes by lake

In his later years, my great-grandfather took exceptional delight in his shiny Western shoes. When he walked, they gleamed from underneath the traditional white robe that he wore on a daily basis. He enjoyed hearing the enunciated clopping noise they made, which the traditional Korean rubber shoes (gomushin) could not rival.

Great-Grandfather Cho enjoyed a life of luxury as a wealthy landowner until 1950. When the North Korean Communist army invaded South Korea and began to burn farms and kill the owners, my great-grandfather knew his days were numbered.

So he drove to a nearby lake, took off his beloved brogues and set them neatly, side by side, on the bank. Then, hitching up his robe, my great-grandfather sauntered into the lake and never came out again.

My great-grandfather In-Suk Cho was a walking paradox. He was a man who loved Korea enough to bring back methods from Japan to improve it, a slaveowner turned abolitionist, and a man who favored fire as a means of terminating things—slavery and even his own family line—but who ultimately chose water to end his own life.