Angie Pei on Asian-American Art

Updated: Jul 13, 2018

Meet the Homegirl: Youth Artist and Trailblazer

By Malavika Kannan

To seventeen-year-old Angie Pei, art is the most supreme form of love, where colors and shapes and imagery can weave bridges for peace wherever there are walls. As a first-generation Chinese American living in San Diego, Angie uses art to explore her identity. Growing up, she always enjoyed making things with her hands, constantly doodling on furniture and the family piano. Eventually, her scribbles and doodles evolved into award-winning works of art. Art had always been her hobby, but a transformative high school arts program convinced Angie to pursue art as a career. The idea was equally exciting and terrifying. “It definitely was hard coping with the idea of becoming an artist, but it’s really all I see myself doing in the future and cannot wait for,” said Angie. In spite of the pressure she feels to pursue a career in STEM, Angie embraces the opportunity to smash Asian-American stereotypes and pursue her own path. She is continually energized by the power of art to empower others.

The Homegirl Project’s Malavika Kannan chatted with Angie about her artistic revolution.

MK: While the field is getting more diverse by the day, there isn’t always a lot of hype for artists of color. What inspires your art?

AP: I’d say a lot of emotions inspire me. I love the aspect of art where you can provoke a deep emotion in your audience and convey a personal message without words. Art is storytelling!

MK: As an Asian-American artist, do you feel like you’re breaking stereotypes?

AP: In some ways, yes. Many Asian-Americans feel pressured to participate in more academic fields and stray away from the arts. However, I feel that it is important to pursue your dreams and to do what truly makes you happy, whether that be arts or academics!

MK: Throughout your career, have you felt friction between Western and Eastern standards or stereotypes?

AP: Western culture tends to emphasize chasing your dreams and living in the now, whereas Eastern culture emphasizes practicality and reasoning. Many of my Asian family friends question me on my choice of pursuing art as a career and are quite surprised when I tell them I am. Furthermore, as an Asian-American, many of my Western friends are surprised as well when I tell them I’m looking into an art career. They tend to fit me into this Asian stereotype, meaning they would expect me to become a doctor or some computer scientist.

MK: Did you ever receive opposition?

AP: My parents were very skeptical at first when I told them I wanted to pursue art. I don’t blame them! I know the art field is extremely tough and has very low job security. Despite their opposition, I showed them I could be successful in the art field by creating more and more art. Soon, my parents have realized that this is my passion. Now they support me in every way they can to help me succeed, which I am eternally grateful for!

MK: Your art often celebrates Asian themes. Why is that?

AP: I wouldn’t classify my art as embodying Asian themes. However, many of my followers or friends tell me I exemplify Asian aspects. It’s somewhat subconscious since being Asian is a very big part of my identity. I guess I’m just proud of my asian heritage and one outlet of that pride is through my art. But, I am definitely happy that people can see myself celebrating my Asianess!

MK: What are your thoughts on how creation and activism intersect to create change?

AP: Creating things for activism is a great way to create change. For example, art can display a message, moving your audience and inspiring change within them. I advise young creators to be mindful of what your art can say to others and what they may perceive it as. Definitely utilize art as a way to speak to a broad audience!

MK: Who inspires you in life?

AP: My dad inspires me a lot. He always supports me no matter what. As an Asian immigrant, my dad came with my mom to America with nothing but the clothes off their back and $100 in their pockets. I can’t even imagine the hardship they had to go through. Despite all the obstacles, my dad built his life out of nothing and raised my brother and I with unconditional love and support. If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t even be pursuing art and chasing my dreams. I aspire to have his hard working mentality and endless love for everyone one day.

MK: The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this issue impact your own life?

If a girl tries to instruct or lead a group in some way, most of the time she’s be ridiculed and labelled as bossy. However, when a boy does the same actions, he’s praised for his leadership and authority. As a young child, I thought this was normal. I would shy away from any opportunity to be labelled as bossy. This subconscious treatment of the genders is ultimately conditioning females to take lower positions compared to males.

MK: How have your beliefs evolved since then?

AP: I believe it is important to empower all women and let them know they have a voice! I’ve definitely grown and found my voice in everyday life, not letting anyone walk all over me or degrade me just based off my gender. Looking back, this was a great change in my life and has opened up my opportunities to achieve great things. I encourage other girls to stand up for themselves, be themselves, and find their own voice.

MK: What is one issue that you want to change about the world?

AP: I would like the change the stigma around the arts. Many people have a passion for art, music, and writing. However, they never chase these dreams because people have told them “they’ll never make it” or “they’re not good enough” or “it’s just too hard out there.” I would want everyone to be able to do what makes them happy no matter how much money they’ll make or how successful they’ll turnout to be. Instead, prove them wrong and achieve your greatest goals and be happy!