Art Biz with Liz: Shaping Creative Lineage

This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending an event called “Shaping Creative Lineage: A Poetry Reading + Writing Workshop with Carlina Duan.” The event, presented by Multi Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA), featured Asian-American poet and educator Carlina Duan. While I hadn’t read one of Ms. Duan’s poems until this past year, it was wonderful to hear her read from her collections I Wore My Blackest Hair (Little A, 2017) and Alien Miss (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2021). The event was a great opportunity to learn more about what inspired her poems and have a conversation on writing about our own experiences.

In I Wore My Blackest Hair, Duan’s poems tackle topics related to ancestry, identities, and belonging. They also reflect on themes of racial consciousness and growing up. Duan’s second collection of poems, Alien Miss, reflects on the experience of growing up as a diasporic, bilingual daughter of immigrants, introducing tales of both love and survival. It was exciting to hear from both of these collections, especially since Alien Miss came out just this year.

I promise this blog post isn’t just an advertisement, though my excitement may come off as such. The event made me consider what it means to write about our identities. It also encouraged me to reflect on the power our creative action holds. For artists like Duan, the question of responsibility is raised. What pressures and influences do we have in creating art when existing representation may be limited? For art so language-based, how can we create care and active thinking in the language we use within our communities? These questions raise more questions regarding what we owe to ourselves and our own vulnerability.

While I still enjoy it, early literature of Asian Americans is often wrapped around imagery of chopsticks and white rice. These concepts alone don’t capture the complexity that is the human experience, and people like Duan are disrupting some of these images through their art. I was impressed with how she uses poetry as an expansion of historical archives, infusing her words with other texts and lineages. When it came to “creative lineage,” however, I was a little confused by what she meant. I assumed it must refer to our ancestral line, the history that gave way to who we are today. I learned that creative lineage is not just our ancestors, but the people who inspire you. These individuals could be people who came before you, but it can also be your friends.

To generate discussion on the topic during the event, Duan raised several questions: Who are you accountable to? Who lives in your creative lineage? Who are the thinkers, makers, and people who you carry with you each time you enter a room for solace, support, community? When I sit down to write, I often consider myself alone with my thoughts. But that’s not necessarily true. When I write, there are often a chorus of people in the room with me, hundreds of memories and experiences impacting who I am and what I create. Creative lineage is talking about these people as well as the spaces I live in and am descended from.

I’ve discussed my unfamiliarity with poetry before on Arts, Ink. I generally consider myself a beginner when it comes to interpreting and writing poetry; however, I still hold an appreciation for the medium it provides in exploring the complexities of identity, emotions, and experiences we hold. I also believe the lessons and questions raised in Duan’s workshop—including the concept of creative lineage—can be applied to all kinds of art, not just poetry. Moving forward, I’d like to consider this idea of creative lineage in my own work. Perhaps you will, too.

Art Biz with Liz: Paint Night

Hello, Arts, Ink. readers!

Last week, I shared a painting of fireflies on a summer night. I’m not very good at painting, but I enjoyed the activity enough to want to do it again! This time, I suggested a paint night with some of my housemates. This blog post is coming to you late as we just finished our pieces.

Despite living under the same roof, my housemates and I rarely spend quality time together. It was great, then, to schedule a “paint night” on our Google calendars and make it official. One of my housemates decided to try painting a face, while another housemate and I followed along with a Bob Ross tutorial. My painting turned out much differently from the expected result, but it was nice to create memories doing something creative and relaxing.

Paintings in progress
Our finished pieces (mine is on the bottom)

Art Biz with Liz: Reflecting on my Asian Identity and Dinh Q. Lê’s Interconfined

On Wednesday morning, I woke to news of a hate crime that left 8 murdered in Georgia. As an Asian American, there are plenty of thoughts swirling in my head surrounding the event. In a time when crime targeting Asian Americans has risen given a perceived association with the coronavirus, it’s interesting to tackle what my Asian identity means to me.

The same Wednesday, I also received my weekly email from the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). UMMA brings art straight to my inbox, something that’s been convenient given the pandemic. The subject line #StopAAPIhate caught my attention, and in addition to art, the email contained information about an event and podcast focused on recent anti-Asian and anti-Asian American violence. The art of this week? Dinh Q. Lê’s mixed media piece Interconfined.

Image comprised of three figures with the central figure interwoven between a Buddhist statue and a Christ-like figure in a red robe. The material of the work is cut into strips and is woven together.
Dinh Q. Lê’s Interconfined

The artist, Dinh Q. Lê (Vietnamese name: Lê Quang Đỉnh), was born in 1968. He is most known for his photography and photo-weaving techniques. According to the UMMA website, many of his works refer to the Vietnam War. Concepts and themes of memory and its relationship with the present are also featured. This work, Interconfined, has three figures, with the central figure being interwoven between a Buddhist statue and a Christ-like figure. The central figure is none other than the artist himself.

For Dinh Q. Lê, a Vietnamese American multimedia artist, the piece represents the “struggle of finding one’s identity as an Asian immigrant (represented by the Buddha) in a Western, Eurocentric world (represented by Jesus)” (UMMA Exchange). This is tastefully represented by how the material in the art piece is cut into strips and is woven together. As a mixed Asian American, I’m inclined to consider how the piece represents being torn between two worlds, or stuck in the middle of two cultures. There are also themes of connectivity in play; the central figure is strategically overlapping the figures of Buddha and Jesus Christ, perhaps suggesting how they – or more so, what they both represent – are found within him.

I come from different ethnic backgrounds, with some parts of me more visible than others. They all, however, comprise who I am. I think of my mother, who experiences a divide tenfold as an immigrant, carrying a mixed bag of stories, traditions, and customs. In the US, we are constantly forging new traditions and identities as cultures and people collide, learning from one another and creating a mixing pot that should serve as a a place for liberty and justice for all. I say should, because as the recent hate crimes have demonstrated, we still have a long way to go as a nation. Being Asian is something that often “othered” me in my youth, and just as I began to found my voice in college, I found myself being shut down by a society that still casts me as an outsider. But just as the central figure in Dinh Q. Lê’s work stands strong, so can we. His work could not have popped into my inbox at a better time, and I am glad for a piece that resonates in such a remarkable way.

Art Biz with Liz: Late Night Writing Thoughts

“How do you come up with all these ideas? You must have a writer’s brain,” my housemate said. But what is a “writer’s brain?” When I asked her what she meant, she said, “you think like a writer.” The words and ideas come easily.

Eh, not always. I’m still figuring out what defines a “writer,” but I’m trying taking the first steps towards becoming one – that is, I’m dedicating more time to practicing the art of writing.

Stories can help people escape reality and construct new ideas or perspectives for when they return to it. They allow readers to explore the minds of others while also educating, immersing, and inspiring them. Writers are the ones who create that magic. I envy those who are constantly typing up a storm or furiously jotting down notes in a notebook. At the same time, I am grateful for them.

When I was a child, the people who could write well seemed like wizards in their ability to conjure new worlds, characters, and scenarios. My love of writing was a seed planted early on, one that has been cultivated over the years. With the support and opportunities available at a school like the University of Michigan, it was sure to bloom. Of course, my initial interest in writing came from a love of reading; bedtime stories encapsulate some of my fondest childhood memories, and I still enjoy reading for pleasure when I have the time. I’m thankful that my parents invited me into the world of literature and storytelling, and I’m even more thankful for the educators and authors that push me to grow in my own.

This is my third year as an Arts, Ink. blogger, and I’m both astounded and delighted by the sheer number of bloggers we have this semester. This year, I am also on the writing staff for several different organizations. In addition to my coursework – which includes a memoir-writing class –  these clubs, student magazines, and newspapers have challenged me to write more about myself, something that I’m not particularly fond of yet doing more and more of these days. While I cherish moments of sudden inspiration, I’ve learned to appreciate the ten minutes I set aside for writing each day. I’ve also enjoyed reserving time to read work written by my peers, whose words, thoughts, and ideas inspire me every day.

Art Biz with Liz: Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack

While my “Wellness Wednesday” this past week focused more on schoolwork than wellness, there are certain things that I treated myself to during the day off. One such activity was listening to music from the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. If you aren’t familiar with Pride and Prejudice, the film is based off of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel of the same name, which features five sisters from an English family (namely Elizabeth Bennett) as they navigate issues of marriage and morality. Instead of the storyline, however, today I’ll be talking about the movie’s soundtrack.

There are a variety of reasons as to why I love the Pride & Prejudice (Music from the Motion Picture) soundtrack. For one, I have fond memories of it. When I was in high school, I learned how to play two songs featured in the movie: “Leaving Netherfield” and “Liz on Top of the World.” I should clarify that by “play,” I mean play on the piano, and by “learned,” I had to master (or at least, become proficient in) the songs for an end-of-the-year piano recital. I didn’t mind, however, due to how pretty the songs were. “Liz on Top of the World” has a special place in my heart, not just because of the name, but for how beautiful it is. In my opinion, both of these tracks, along with basically every song in this soundtrack, are to be treasured – and you don’t need to have a personal connection to the soundtrack to enjoy them.

Movie soundtracks can do wonders in enhancing a movie scene or storyline. The Pride and Prejudice soundtrack has many moments where it does just that. It excels in its use of subtle songs in the periphery of crucial scenes, but it also drops the music front and center, making it as important as the dialogue or even the plot itself. “Meryton Townhall” and “Another Dance,” for instance, help transport viewers into the late eighteenth century during ball scenes. The soundtrack enhances the film by going hand-in-hand with its tone and story, intensifying pivotal scenes and providing insight on character growth. “Liz on Top of the World,” for example, begins while a silhouette of the sky is shown through Elizabeth’s closed eyelids, setting a mood. The music crescendos and manifests into an image of Elizabeth standing on a cliff, culminating into a breathtakingly beautiful and powerful scene.

See the source image
The Film’s Theatrical Release Poster

Outside of the film, the soundtrack gives me all the emotions I feel while watching the movie. It’s also worthy enough to be art on its own accord, and if you haven’t caught on by now, I highly recommend that you give it a listen. Don’t believe me? Composer Dario Marianelli received an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score and two World Soundtrack Academy nominations. Clearly, I’m not the only one who believes that the soundtrack deserves praise.