It was a Wednesday night and I was searching for story ideas for my Journalism class the following day. I was scrolling down my Facebook feed, from one distracting meme to another, until Kimothy Wu’s beautiful artwork caught my eye; it was a post of of her Asian-inspired ‘The New Yorker’ style magazine covers from the Asian Creative Network (ACN) Facebook group. I was instantly mesmerised by the beautiful emerald green and rubine red that surrounded the Kyotoite Geisha. I made it my day’s mission to get in touch with her, and to shine a spotlight on a fellow Asian creative who lived all the way on the other side of the world—Boston.
The Kyotoite (2019) by Kimothy Wu
“My name is Kimothy Wu, and I am a self-taught digital artist focusing in the realms of illustration and moving image,” Wu types in an email response on a peaceful Sunday. Wu is a first-generation South-African born Taiwanese, who is currently studying a Masters of Fine Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. While she’s not Asian-American, growing up in a diverse country allowed her to share the identity struggles of Asians raised in Western cultures.
“My artwork serves to tell the lesser told stories of the world,” she says. Wu had always admired the illustrations on the gorgeous covers of The New Yorker that leaned on side-walk stands. She was especially thrilled to find out that there were Asian illustrators who had their work featured on those paperback covers—yet she found herself wishing to see her own and other Asian cultures printed, held and enjoyed.
“This project, currently titled The Role Model I Never Had, serves to celebrate the multitude of cultures and ethnicities that are found in the Western-derived umbrella term ‘Asia’, and to elevate those communities’ lesser told stories to the spotlight that they deserve,” says Wu. Wu clarifies that she does not intend to slander the reputation of The New Yorker, but to simply raise awareness to all publications that representation goes further than one’s skin.
Her second illustration of the three magazine covers she illustrated, The Kyotoite, was inspired by the misrepresentation of geishas by Westerners. She mentioned that outsiders of Japanese culture often view geishas as the equivalent to prostitutes, when in fact they are more like entertainers, whose primary audience are men. Geishas are only allowed to engage in sexual activities with two people—the man who ‘buys’ her virginity as part of a coming of age ritual called ‘mitzuage’ and the man who would become her sponsor for life.
The Shanghaine (2019) by Kimothy Wu
Wu notes that people foreign to this culture will often find this ethically questionable, which is why she wants to showcase this aspect of Japanese culture in her artwork. “The different perspectives one can have are simply because of different cultural contexts,” she says. “The goal of The Kyotoite is to educate but also point out that cultures behave differently and there is no culture that should feel entitled to feeling their culture is ‘the better culture’”.
One of Wu’s greatest artistic influences is Victo Ngai, for her use of soft autumnal colours to create the most whimsical pieces. Two other notable artists are Juliette Oberndorfer, who uses a combination of bold colours and round shapes, and Svahbu Kohli who is known for his illusive nature illustrations.
Wu’s currently working on exploring cultural influences behind the demand for rhino horn in Chinese and Vietnamese markets. “Poaching is a highly complex issue—economic, social, political and environmental,” she says. “It is driven by the Asian market as it is primarily used as herbal medicine to cure fever or cancer, which is a myth as rhino horn is made from the same thing as our nails”. The next thing she wants to delve into is the representation of pioneering women in the art field.
The Saigoner (2019) by Kimothy Wu
Since first seeing her post two weeks ago, Wu’s artworks have gone viral on ACN and increased in another thousand likes. When she first posted her work on the 23,000-member online group, she did not expect to get noticed. Through this network she has been able to create work for filmmakers and musicians, and connect with other passionate people from all over the world. “It’s the kind of network that makes you feel empowered to get out there and try to do something with whatever you have … ACN has taught me that sometimes risking putting yourself out there is just as rewarding as it is scary.”
When she first started experimenting as an artist 5 years ago, she did not receive parental support, and in fact, completed a degree completely irrelevant to art. It was her love for art and her intolerance for discontentment that pushed her to give the art industry a go. “My personal life motto is ‘live life meaningfully’, and for me that means living life beyond myself in service to those who did or did not have the same socio-economic privileges I did,” she says in advice to all aspiring artists. “Make the mistakes, doubt yourself, feel the anxiety—but never ever give up on yourself’.
Wu invites all illustrators interested in collaborating on The Role Model I Never Had to join her Facebook group ‘Asian-inspired New Yorker covers’.