The Universal Language of Illustration
“The dialogue around ethnic minorities in the Australian consciousness have always been as the ‘Other.’ Art can be a medium that serves to center these faces and stories.”
For Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting ladies who are shifting the culture and using their identity as a tool to propel them forward, not hold them back. Meet Australia based doctor and artist Yi Xiao Chen.
While Australia has long considered itself an immigrant nation, there’s no question that it is a far more racist country than its people like to admit. Yi Xiao Chen is a first generation Chinese-Australian artist and general practitioner whose work is geared towards opening up the lines of communication surrounding ethnic minorities in the country.
Having lived her entire life between two cultures while being immersed in the two vastly different fields of medicine and art, Yi views duality as a notion that is at the core of everything and believes “that opposing elements can be in the service of a common purpose.”
We chatted with Yi about the meaning and importance of multiculturalism, where she draws inspiration from and her current frustrations with today’s society.
Give us a little overview of what you do and how you got started creating art.
Where/who do you draw inspiration from in your art?
I draw inspiration from the stories of ordinary individuals and their families, their personal struggles and triumphs, and the different ways they uphold traditions from their homeland. I often collect images of old family photographs, personal memorabilia, letters and handwritten notes, cultural artifacts and historical remnants of the mundane and personal. This way I can gather inspiration from the traces of past lives of ordinary people, and form a connection with people across a different time period and culture.
What does being a woman today mean to you?
Being a woman in this day and age is a privilege that the previous generations of women have fought hard for. I never take for granted the opportunities and freedom that I enjoy today, and the ability to pursue my interests and passions freely.
Historically, and still today, the cards have been stacked against women across the majority of cultures and in most countries. Being a woman today, in a privileged country and society, there is a sense of responsibility to continue to champion the rights of women around the world.
“Being a woman today, in a privileged country and society, there is a sense of responsibility to continue to champion the rights of women around the world.”
What frustrates you the most about today’s culture?
Much of today’s contemporary culture, with its over-saturation of constructed imagery, sound bites, information and misinformation, infiltrates every aspect of our daily lives, and establishes a cultural hegemony that serves to uphold its model of profit and consumption. The result of which has the effect of distracting from, rather than leading us towards the truth.
What do you hope people take away from your art?
I hope my art can open up lines of conversation about cultural identity, belonging, unity of diverse peoples, and connection to our shared histories.
Talk to us about multiculturalism. Why is this something you choose to focus on through your art?
My most recent project, a digital exhibition for my home city of Perth called: Among The Marri Trees: Portraits of Multicultural Australia, is currently showing this month for the celebration of Harmony Week, 2019.
Multiculturalism is the celebration of both our diverse cultural differences and the collective human experience. It is a theme that is very dear to me, as a first generation immigrant and as a daughter of immigrants, who, like many others, share the common experiences and struggles of adapting to a new culture and customs.
Australia is arguably the most multicultural country in the world yet this status has been fraught with a long history of conflict and tension. There have been efforts made towards unity and peace, particularly in the 70’s under the Whitlam government, to encourage cultural pluralism and the retention of one’s traditional cultural practices without fear of discrimination. Nonetheless, the continuation of such discourse must be upheld, now more than ever, to stem the ever-present undercurrent of hate and distrust in our society, whose ebb-and-flow, in its various manifestations and changing targets, dates from the earliest colonial years.
The dialogue around ethnic minorities in the Australian consciousness have always been as the ‘Other.’ Art, and portraiture in particular, can be a medium that serves to center these faces and stories. Representation creates normalization and amplification of these marginalized voices, and highlight the richness and beauty of their traditional cultures.
This exhibition pays tribute to those who have for decades contributed to championing the voices and presence of their communities in the public sphere. Likewise, it is paying tribute to those whose lives were lived in the domestic sphere, in particular women, whose immense contributions to their families and local communities are often overlooked, but are no less important to be recognized and celebrated.
“Representation creates normalization and amplification of these marginalized voices, and highlight the richness and beauty of their traditional cultures.”
What’s your positive message for 2019?
That we continue to use art and story-telling to appeal to our common humanity, build bridges and challenge existing mindsets. Art, with the ability to evoke our basest human responses and emotions, can achieve what politics and mainstream media cannot, in speaking to the personal; the innate, biological need for human connection and understanding.
Upholding human rights, and the preservation of human dignity and justice can only be achieved through collective effort and hard work. 2019 has been a tumultuous year thus far, but I have seen a vast amount of kindness, empathy, and dedication from inspiring individuals who continue to work hard for these goals, and in turn inspire others, such as myself, to do the same.
Words: Clarice Metzger
Art: Yi Xiao Chen
MARCH 27, 2019