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Art as Resistance

Columns | March 6, 2017

I’d like to send a strongly worded letter to whomever coined the term “Sunday Fun-day” because, frankly, that concept is bullshit. As a lady in her spring semester of senior year, Sunday is the day I reserve for feeling like doodyafter drinking like, three beers, the night before, doing all of the excess work I have procrastinated the entire weekend, and having hourly existential crises about what I will be doing a year from now.

 

I don’t think this would qualify as anyone’s definition of a “fun day”—so, if you or anyone you know has any idea about what this “Sunday Fun-day” funny business is all about, hit a gal up. I’m looking for some answers and I’m ready to take names.

 

Anyways, about a month ago I was enjoying my Sunday in the throes of an existential crisis. I was feeling pretty uninspired in the wake of a terrible week saturated with executive orders from a particularly orange looking man. Instead of doing my homework, I was scrolling aimlessly through Facebook and wondering in the back of my mind what the point of finding a job was if the silly orange man was going to destroy all the things I cared about. It had only been two weeks since the inauguration and I was feeling really drained from binge-reading all the angry Facebook statuses that were posted on my newsfeed. I felt like I needed something cathartic, self-affirming, and empowering to look at to balance things out in my mind.

 

I inboxed my friend to prolong my procrastination spree and vent about my jumbled feelings. In addition to being very nice and willing to take on some intense emotional labor (on a Sunday, no less), she gave me a really constructive suggestion: buy a really rad planner.

 

At first, I was puzzled. While I definitely needed to add some structure to my life, I didn’t really see how a planner was related to our conversation.

 

She explained that the planner, called the “Slingshot Organizer,” was this cool piece of work that was produced by an all-volunteer collective in Berkeley, CA. It comes with nifty little doodles, and each day includes different resistance actions that happened on that date in history. She got it about a year ago, and it was just the type of healing, affirming, inspiring thing she wanted to write her daily schedule in.

 

Because she is awesome, I took her word for it and ordered one online—and let me tell you, this thing did not disappoint. Not only did I get a rad planner that made me feel actually happy and excited to write down all the shit I had to do every day, but the company also included a free magazine filled with resistance, post-election-themed art and poetry.

 

I can’t exactly tell you when or how, but looking through this magazine at all of these powerful, unapologetic illustrations of struggle and resilience began to fill a little hole in my heart. Instead of being overwhelmed and over-saturated by these images, I felt inspired and energized.

 

So energized, in fact, that I spontaneously got some scissors and started to cut out some of my favorite illustrations from the magazine. After about two hours of creative frenzy, all these images were taped to the door of my closet, arranged in a little collage of personal resistance.

 

Now, every Sunday, when I feel slightly hungover and more than slightly overwhelmed by homework, responsibilities, and the horrible things being done to the world by a little orange man (and others), I look at my little resistance door. While it doesn’t exactly make Sunday a “fun day,” it does make me feel a little bit better.

 

I think this is the immense power that art can hold as a tool of resistance, of catharsis, of connection, and of community. And while I have only just begun to discover my own personal relationship with art as resistance, I know that there are others (particularly in the Tufts community) that have dedicated a lot of time, energy, and emotional space into thinking about and producing resistance art.

 

One of them is Elise Lee (“Eel”): current senior, American Studies major, fantastic singer, energetic dancer, and all-around rad human being.

 

To complete the American Studies major, students are given the option to write a thesis, take an upper level seminar course, or conduct a senior project. Eel was immediately attracted to the idea of a senior project, as it would allow her to creatively incorporate a lot of personal interests into one cohesive academic project. In her senior project, Elise decided to explore her own identity as an Asian American, as well as the Asian American community at Tufts, through one of her favorite hobbies: makeup.

 

Eel first discovered makeup when she was 14 during a trip to Sephora. “My friends had all begun wearing makeup at the time,” she said, “and I had hoped to get my makeup done by one of the artists. But after sitting in the chair, the woman who had been helping me immediately began explaining how she had ‘never done makeup on an Asian girl before,’ and how my ‘eyes were an exciting challenge.’ I stared back at my reflection in the wickedly lit vanity mirror and immediately began to resent myself for my ‘different’ features.”

 

Seven years have passed and a lot has evolved for Eel. Instead of feeling defeated and excluded by makeup, she has experimented with makeup on her own since that first trip to Sephora. Over time, Eel began to realize that her eyes were a ‘challenge’ only to White people who have an idea of Asian people as just a foreigner or a fetish, those who outwardly ridicule Asian American features as “undesirable.”  “My eyes are a part of who I am,” said Eel, “and learning that I have the freedom to explore this medium in whatever ways I wish to express myself has made all the difference in how I interpret my own beauty, and, in essence, position myself as beautiful, against the dominant narrative.”

 

 

 

 

 

This semester, Eel decided to produce a body of work that subverted this “dominant narrative.” “I wanted the project to be geared towards highlighting the narratives of other Asian people who have any experience with makeup or beauty—individuals who have been deterred from wearing makeup,” Eel said. The project is centered on “individuals who wear “too much makeup,” individuals who love makeup and do amazing things with it, and individuals who feel unwelcomed by the world of makeup.”

 

While the project is only in its beginning stages, Eel said she has already learned a lot so far. “I’ve had to recognize and work through a lot of my own privileges during this whole experience, both as someone who is willing to spend money on specific products and as a cisgendered female. But this project has pushed me to try and stretch my own boundaries, and amidst the conversations, I’ve found myself dismantling my own deeply rooted standards of beauty.”

 

Throughout the semester, Eel wants to continue to explore these difficulties in her project. “I hope to be able to get in touch with exactly where and when these beliefs came to fruition, both in my own life and the lives of other Asian people.”

 

Eel wants the end result to be a comprehensive, creative, and inspiring project that highlights Asian American beauty, something that is too often been erased by hegemonic Whiteness. Ultimately, Eel says, “I [hope] these counter-narratives will shed light upon the relationship between the standards of beauty and the subversive and terrifying nature of colonialism that has prevented Asian bodies and Asian faces from seeming beautiful and from being wholly accepted.”

 

Eel’s work and the immense thought that has gone into the project (so far) is no less than incredible. I think the way Eel uses her personal experience with makeup to relate with others in her Asian American community is a powerful reminder of how art and creativity can work as a unifier, how it can bring people together. Furthermore, through speaking with Eel, I was able to learn and think more about the ways in which makeup, hegemonic beauty standards, and the erasure of Asian American beauty can connect to wider themes of colonialism and White supremacy.

 

I hope to take this experience hearing about Eel’s amazing project and apply it to my own life. While I am not one to be particularly artistic (I think that collage may have been my peak as an “artist”), and the most makeup I ever use is a swipe of ChapStick, I think there is a lot of value in consuming art by others who share your own marginalized identities. I think, in the future, I am going to try to seek out and support artists, singers, photographers, writers, and television shows that provide platforms for my community. While this in no way replaces learning, self-education and protests, it can be a small act of resistance that fills me up and makes me feel whole and validated.

 

Until next time,

 

Kate Hirsch the amateur collage maker