Research

To Bring Into Being an Optimistic Future

Recent points of reference about psychology, anxiety, and the need to be intentional about optimism and humor. Plus artworks made when I was first learned about positive psychology at the beginning of the Obama presidency.

 

Christine Wong Yap. Stars and Stripes from the Pounds of Happiness installation, 2009, mixed media.

Christine Wong Yap. Stars and Stripes from the Pounds of Happiness installation, 2009, mixed media.

We live in a world where there is a constant feed from social media, the news, etc., of things that can scare us, and we become so anxious because human beings are designed to be sensitized to dangerous stuff. You get a bad review as a writer, you remember it for 10 years. You get 100 good reviews, you forget them all. You say hello to 100 people in a city, and it doesn’t mean anything to you. One racist comment passes by, it sticks with you a decade. We keep the negative stuff because it’s the negative stuff that’s going to—potentially—kill us. That fin in the water—maybe it is a shark. That yellow thing behind a tree—maybe it is a lion. You need to be scared. But contemporary culture in Pakistan, just like in America, is continuously hitting us with scary stuff, and so we are utterly anxious.

I think that it’s very important to resist that anxiety, to think of ways of resisting the constant inflow of negative feelings—not to become depoliticized as a result, but to actually work actively to bring into being an optimistic future. For me, writing books and being someone who is politically active is part of that. I don’t want to be anxious in my day-to-day life; I want to try to imagine a future I’d like to live in and then write books and do things that, in my own small way, make it more likely that that future will come to exist.

—Author Mohsin Hamid (“Pakistani Author Mohsin Hamid And His Roving ‘Discontent’,’ Fresh Air, March 9, 2017)

 

Christine Wong Yap, Cheap and Cheerful #3, 2009, gel pen on paper, A4.

Christine Wong Yap, Cheap and Cheerful #3, 2009, gel pen on paper, A4.

…one of the offshoots of the rise of Trump has been to rob many liberals of their sense of humor. To pay close attention to the news is to trap oneself in a daily cycle of outrage, self-righteousness, a pained recognition of the inelegance of that self-righteousness, and, finally, a feeling of futility. Part of what made the Women’s March so powerful was its scenes of comedy, not simply the signs that mocked the President but those that recognized the joyousness in the very of act of protest.

…Constant vigilant outrage is not only exhausting, and eventually deflating, but it’s ill suited to liberal culture, which is suffused with a healthy dose of self-awareness, self-mockery, and even self-loathing. There’s a reason conservatives control talk radio, with all its grim certitude, and liberals run comedy, which is characterized by, among others things, ambivalence.

—Ian Crouch, “This Is The Future That Liberals Want” Is The Joke That Liberals Need, NewYorker.com, March 3, 2017

 

Christine Wong Yap, Unlimited Promise, 2009/2010, installation.

Christine Wong Yap, Unlimited Promise, 2009/2010, installation.

 

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News

Resistance and Solidarity

I am happy to share two new prints—both are inspired by our dawning age of ungovernability. 

Both are on view in Social Energies, curated by Alice Wu, through March 10 at Legion, San Francisco.

Horoscopophilia
risograph print, 11×17 inches with 12 tearaway cards, signed and numbered edition of 70

Christine Wong Yap, Horoscopophilia, 2017.

Christine Wong Yap, Horoscopophilia, 2017.

Horoscopophilia is a broadside with 12 tearaway cards. It’s inspired by the Chinese zodiac and “the positive exercise of rights, capacities, and possibilities for action.”

For each card, I interpreted the strengths of a zodiac animal (for example, people born in the year of the snake are smart, dangerous) as an aspect of activism (“When it’s time, STRIKE!”). For one-player use, ask yourself the reflection question (“What is my source of power? How do I use it?”). For multi-player scenarios, pose the conversation question (“What could we accomplish if we joined forces?”)

Printed by Colpa Press, an artist-run press in San Francisco. Drawn and perforated in Queens, NY.

$10 each, available at Legion.

Fist Bump Bandanna
letterpress-printed linoleum on 100% cotton, 17×17 inches, edition of 20

Christine Wong Yap, Fist Bump Bandanna, 2016.

Christine Wong Yap, Fist Bump Bandanna, 2016.

Fist Bump Bandanna is inspired by the ideal of solidarity among all politically marginalized groups, and the ferocity of our people power and revolutionary love.

Curator Alice Wu and I are donating 50% of each $20 Fist Bump Bandanna sale to the Chinatown Progressive Association. They’re a non-profit organization based in San Francisco’s Chinatown since 1972. CPA “educates, organizes and empowers the low income and working class immigrant Chinese community in San Francisco to build collective power with other oppressed communities to demand better living and working conditions and justice for all people.” They are also a member organization of SF Rising, an alliance of multi-racial social justice organizations. I’m happy to support organizations like CPA, which have been empowering local communities from within for years.

Printed at the Center for Book Arts, NYC, with the support of a 2016 Workspace Artist-in-Residence Grant.

 

Limited edition. Only $20 each, available at Legion.

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"Seven Nations Cake, with arak liqueur from Iraq, hawash spice blend for Somalia, mastic from Yemen, qamar al-deen (apricot leather) from Syria, Shamshiri tea from Iran, dates for Libya, and sorghum for Sudan. With honey for sweetness and rose petals for a warm welcome home." // Source: Instagram @protestcake
Citizenship

Points of Reference: Resistance Day 16: Cakes, Spells, Dance, and Multi-Centeredness

It’s hard to keep up—much less synthesize—current events, so here is a collection of ideas that have been resonating with me… None more than this:

“No one action will be adequate. All actions will be necessary.”

—Jon Stewart as quoted by Dave Itzkoff, “Jon Stewart Savages Trump: ‘Purposeful, Vindictive Chaos,’” New York Times, February 1, 2017. (Please read in full, in fairness to comedic craft.)

 

Note to self: If I question the value of individual acts of resistance, remember that more is more.

Case in point: The #nobannowall opposition—protestors’ and lawyers’ rapid response at airports, the ACLU’s legal cases, the Brooklyn judge’s emergency order, the win achieved by Washington State’s Attorney General, and the strike self-organized by 1,000 NYC Yemeni bodega owners. (Side note: If self-employed, precarious bodega owners can demonstrate such a unified show of force, when will artists? Why were strikers in the #J20 art strike dispersed among art-world institutions?)

Protest Cakes’ Seven Nations Cake, distributed in last night’s #nobannowall protest at San Francisco City Hall.

"Seven Nations Cake, with arak liqueur from Iraq, hawash spice blend for Somalia, mastic from Yemen, qamar al-deen (apricot leather) from Syria, Shamshiri tea from Iran, dates for Libya, and sorghum for Sudan. With honey for sweetness and rose petals for a warm welcome home." // Source: Instagram @protestcake

“Seven Nations Cake, with arak liqueur from Iraq, hawash spice blend for Somalia, mastic from Yemen, qamar al-deen (apricot leather) from Syria, Shamshiri tea from Iran, dates for Libya, and sorghum for Sudan. With honey for sweetness and rose petals for a warm welcome home.” // Source: Instagram @protestcake.

Illustrator and comic book artist Yumi Sakugawa‘s recent drawing/meditation:

"Intersectional, intergenerational, intergalactic, international, interconnection. Even if it takes years, decades, centuries-- any unit of time beyond my lifetime and my theoretical grandchildren's lifetime-- I believe in action, I believe in compassion, I believe in a plane of existence where peace is the default and not the exception. Do what you can to show up. Every gesture matters." Source: Instagram: @YumiSakagawa.

“Intersectional, intergenerational, intergalactic, international, interconnection. Even if it takes years, decades, centuries– any unit of time beyond my lifetime and my theoretical grandchildren’s lifetime– I believe in action, I believe in compassion, I believe in a plane of existence where peace is the default and not the exception. Do what you can to show up. Every gesture matters.” Source: Instagram: @YumiSakagawa.

Victoria Graham’s projects about casting spells:

Jenifer k Wofford’s NO SCRUBS intervention: joy in the face of repression, cultural workers making revolution irresistible, with women of color to the front.

"NO SCRUBS was a boisterous, fun dance brigade that injected playfulness into the SF and Oakland Women's Marches. Their focused energy was fueled by fun, feisty tunes by women of color and quirky protest signs." Organized by Jenifer k Wofford. // Source: Instagram @100DaysAction

“NO SCRUBS was a boisterous, fun dance brigade that injected playfulness into the SF and Oakland Women’s Marches. Their focused energy was fueled by fun, feisty tunes by women of color and quirky protest signs.” Organized by Jenifer k Wofford. // Source: Instagram @100DaysAction

Krista Tippett: “A cynic would say, ‘…they’re just drops in the ocean.’”

Larry Ward, dharma teacher and Baptist minister:

“That is true. I am a drop in the ocean, but I’m also the ocean. I’m a drop in America, but I’m also America.”

—From “Being Peace in a World of Trauma,” On Being, July 14, 2016.

 


Reflections on immigration, racial identity, and place

My mom's Chinese New Year's preparations this year included tamarind, which she used to eat fresh from a neighborhood tree in Vietnam.

My mom’s Chinese New Year’s preparations. Citrus and lettuce represent wishes for prosperity. Tamarind is not a traditional offering, but my mom likes it because there was a tamarind tree near her home in Vietnam. In Chinese, pink is considered light red, the color of luck.

Wall text from "Land of Opportunity" at the San Mateo History Museum, Redwood City, CA.

Wall text from “Land of Opportunity” at the San Mateo History Museum, Redwood City, CA.

I flew back to the Bay Area to visit family. The next day, Lunar New Year, the Muslim ban, and the gravity of DJT’s reckless nationalism began.

I watched videos of protests at SFO and JFK as my mom happily arranged Chinese New Year’s offerings for peace and prosperity. It was surreal to think that my parents—who came to the US to escape war and fear of persecution in Vietnam and mainland China—might not be welcomed today.

I didn’t do anything to earn citizenship. I was granted citizenship because I was born here—a simple quirk at the complex nexus of my parent’s tremendous sacrifices and generations of people who fought for equality. When I think about how hard immigrants have to work to become naturalized, it makes me want to be deserving of citizenship. Engaging as an active citizen seems a small price.

At the San Mateo History Museum, I saw register books for “enemy aliens”—Japanese, German and Italian Americans. I thought about how such xenophobic, unconstitutional acts seemed like relics of the past not too long ago, but could be seen as part of a racist continuum now (and indeed have been cited as legal precedents).

My past internalized racism also came to light. A a youth I disdained the peninsula and the South Bay; I thought they were boring and lacked culture and worldliness. But I looked at things differently as I drove around San Mateo and visited a pan-Southeast Asian Buddhist temple in San Jose. While the region may be short on high or alternative cultures, its unfussy integration of Asian and Pacific Islander cultures into suburbia with mid-century vernacular architecture and design, is specific and kind of wonderful.

It renews my gratitude to call  both the San Francisco Bay Area and Queens home. What I love most about the two are their richness of cultural diversity and the simpatico afforded by progressivism and tolerance. I don’t feel split or unrooted. I feel “multi-centered.” Is that such an odd proposition? My mom is shaped by three countries—the one of her heritage, the one where she was raised, and the one she emigrated to.

I just started reading Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society (1997). The idea of belonging to a place, and at the same time, to an interconnected world, seems especially meaningful.


Notes for forward movement

Some tidbits of creative inspiration:

  • The lion dance is said to have originated when villagers were tormented by a monster, so in defense they sewed a costume and choreographed a dance. Their united power scared the monster away.
  • 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. The rooster is in charge of time and starting a new day.

Positive psychology researcher Shane Lopez’s Hope Map exercise is a set of instructions to identify goals, pathways, obstacles, and methods (in other words, ways and means) of overcoming obstacles. Follow this link and click “Show Mapping Out Hope.”

[I’ve been holding on to this one because it’s like a make things (happen) activity waiting to happen, if presented as visually-oriented handout for download. But it seems worth sharing now; the time is ripe for planning and self-determined goals.]

L-R: (1) My assumed schema. (2) Kevin's described schema. (3) A proposed revision.

L-R: (1) My assumed schema. (2) Kevin’s described schema. (3) A proposed revision.

I liked how Kevin Chen recently described five areas of life (figure 2): a romantic relationship, friendships, family, practice, and job(s). In this schema, “productivity” accounts for only two-fifths of life, and relationships account for a majority.

I realized that I’d held a three-part schema (figure 1): work, practice, and personal life. This short-changed other people and explained why I always felt like I was failing someone.

I suppose I might add two more “houses” to a revised schema (figure 3): “me-time” and citizenship/civic engagement. This might be a temporary mode for the next few years, that incorporates both activism and self-care. In this case, people still occupy the majority.

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Funkadelic's "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts" appears on "Standing on the Verge of Getting On," Westbound Records, 1974

Funkadelic’s “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts” appears on “Standing on the Verge of Getting On,” Westbound Records, 1974

Angela Davis once talked about the importance of being able to imagine liberation. If you’ve only known a world where you’ve never been free, it’s difficult to envision something else. If an autocratic regime becomes the new normal, and we are only able to respond with opposition, we have yet to imagine true self-determination.

When I make art about positive psychology, optimism, or happiness, I’m really talking about getting familiar with your inner life—paying attention to your mind and heart. A strong sense of self fuels the courage of one’s convictions. From where I stand, cognitive behavior strategies and real political agency are both points on a spectrum of self-empowerment.

Funkadelic’s song, “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts,” is sort of so perfect that I will only say three things: it speaks to these themes, is 12 minutes long, and is probably best heard in a listening party of one. Get out the good speakers, silence the distractions, and sit back; some of the work to be done is within.

Works

Funkadelic’s Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts

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Erik Drooker, Flood, Dark Horse Books, 1992

Erik Drooker, Flood, Dark Horse Books, 1992 [Source: Drooker.com]

Eric Drooker, Blood Song, Dark Horse Books, 2002

Eric Drooker, Blood Song, Dark Horse Books, 2002 [Source: Drooker.com]

Today, a pot of pink daisies jolted me from a low-level state of sadness and self-pity by reminding me of a scene in Eric Drooker’s Flood. I probably last read Flood almost a decade ago. But its emotional power hasn’t diminished, even via memory.

If you haven’t yet read Drooker’s graphic novels, do! They’re amazing. I’ve discussed some of the stunningly elegant compositions at length in my workshops. And moreover, I think of them especially now because Drooker doesn’t shy away from depicting the terror of state violence, nor affirming life, creativity, and resistance. There is empathy, joy, and ferocity in these stories.

One of the most remarkable things about Hidden Figures (also recommended) is how it makes vivid the mundane and constant ways that systems of injustice dehumanize all involved. I hope that we are entering period of sustained resistance, and though powers will do everything they can to misdirect, exhaust, and numb us, we will insist on being staying human, listening, and keeping our hearts open.

Citizenship, Works

Eric Drooker’s Flood and Blood Song

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Citizenship

Points of Reference: Artists’ Power of Ungovernability

A few points of reference from this week of flourishing resistance.

Afire with revolutionary love

I made and gifted this papercut-and-ink poster. It was inspired by Rep. John Lewis and Susan O’Malley. Still learning.

Last night, I co-hosted a Protest Sign Work Party. We supplied paper in fluorescent red, aqua blue, navy blue, gold, and silver. I was elated to see a lot of great paper-cutting, hand lettering, and creative messages. It was heartening to hold space, share, and prepare for the NYC Women’s March on Saturday, among other actions.

Thanks to SOHO20, Rachel Vera Steinberg, everyone who braved the rain and cold to participate, and Materials for the Arts (an amazing NYC city institution!).

The power of artists

I love what Culture Strike posted about the power of artists’ resistance.

[…] has also been having a very hard time finding musicians to perform at his inauguration ceremony, making him angry. This proves that even a person like […] understands the power of music and culture, and not having a legit cultural icon performing at his ceremony supports the notion that artists and cultural workers do not stand by him, his administration, nor his rhetoric. It shows just how powerful artists are and how much influence [we] have.*

Saying no to opportunities can be trying, but it’s a choice we all have, and we have to exercise it to understand our capacities to resist. We can’t afford complicity. Now is a time for opposition (we can oppose with revolutionary love; see Representative John Lewis’ interview with Krista Tippett on On Being).

*As per my last post about not re-inscribing power, I redacted the name. I’ll try out different ways to avoid adding to […]’s over-representation. The parens and ellipse are sort of nice because power is inherently empty (H/T Amanda Curreri), and those who occupy it can be displaced (H/T Kerry James Marshall).

Social purpose

Friday’s ArtStrike is spurring soul-searching among some artists, who question the efficacy of participating. To me the answer is obvious: collective action is comprised of personal actions. But that’s hard to see without a sense of social purpose.

Perhaps, if it develops social purpose, then the project of seeing ourselves as interdependently entangled, and as agents, not subjects is necessary and urgent work.

Autocracy & emotional self-determination

An autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup d’état or mass insurrection). (Wikipedia)

One aspect of autocracy that offends is the intentional disregard for others. The autocrat exempts himself from principles foundational to social bonding: fairness, mutuality, accountability, integrity. (As M said, the spectrum of possibilities of the unreasonable continues to widen.) Simultaneously, being emotionally immature, thin-skinned, reactionary, petty, and vindictive describes a counter-example of how to be in the world. I would like to craft my resistance on my terms, to self-determine my emotional tone of resolve.

Artists/Ungovernables

While organizing artists is notoriously difficult—like “herding cats” as the cliché goes—maybe that means, optimistically, we’re inclined towards ungovernability.

ungovernable: not capable of being governed, guided, or restrained; not submissive to government or control (Mirriam-Webster)

OK, you’ve got cats, artists, ungovernability—this is so meme-ready, artists. Go with it!

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