Mandy Messina

Carry That Weight

I got to know Edison and his practice during a month in a 3-storey, former thrift-store.

Elsewhere is a strange condition to engage with art in.

This “living museum” is simultaneously a space of creative incubation for makers, a site of contemporary community engagement, and a protean archive of stuff that the public come to see and touch and eat and drink up.

For a month, I lived with 7 artists - 4 of whom where live-in interns at Elsewhere. Everyone slept in dorms on the second floor, cooked together in the kitchen, and spent their days making art with portions of the museum collection. This includes former residents finished art works.

Living there felt like a process of autophagy - what is no longer relevant is transformed, whether that’s a vintage book with problematic views, an artwork that did not age well over the residency’s 15 year period, or compostable scraps from communal meals.

After an initial exploration period, residents propose a piece they’ll work on at Elsewhere. Peñafiel was drawn to the large collection of vintage suitcases as a starting point.

“(T)he symbol of luggage is belongings, is movement, is travel, is moving from one place to another.”


Born into a creative family in Ecuador, he made his way into music and visual art. He learnt to play instruments by jamming with cousins, and two college-age sisters reiterated their graphic design lessons to him at an early age.

He came to the US as a teenager, overstayed his visa but eventually obtained residence status. After enrolling as a business major, he found that it wasn’t aligned with his ambitions. Or morals. He shifted his attention to major in Fine Arts, after a serendipitous photography elective.

Earlier works, such as Barrio Alto, and Los Chupasangre coax the viewer into questioning what is real and what is not. Exploring the nature of truth by pushing the limitations of pre-production.

“Most of my work during my school years was camera based. I saw the camera as an element that captures evidence, and truth, and I wanted to distort that idea of the camera.”

Not long after, he began projecting moving images - his stop-motion animations - over objects and spaces. Creating immersive installations that viewers can engage and interact with.

As a member of Wild Beast, Peñafiel was recently invited to take part in the artist collectives’ pilot residency program wherein a performing- and a visual artist collaborate on a piece. The installation, And It’s Gonna Be Great!, featured hanging panels of chiffon which created a maze through the 4,000 sq. ft. warehouse. The panels were illuminated, as he tells it, by “(…)animations of walls that shift and move and destroy themselves and deconstruct and construct back and make pathways so that the viewer can walk through them.” The idea being his own version of a wall, albeit one with a permeable membrane participants could cross at without restriction.

At Elsewhere, Peñafiel reworked ideas of displacement and migration within new contexts - this time the museums’ luggage collection served as an anchor point.

“(I)t brought back the possibility of talking about migration, movement, displacement, weight (…) not just physical weight, but an emotional or a psychological burden that these migrants go through - and not just migrants, but anybody that could relate to it. Maybe it’s a burden from a bad relationship, social or economic problems, you name it.”

Ni Aquì, Ni Allà is tucked away on the third floor of Elsewhere, down a dark passage way. It’s a fitting location because it requires physical effort to reach. Climbing two sets of stairs and carefully feeling your way down a dim hallway while your eyes adjust to the dark. And his installation rewards tenure. The longer you stay in the space, the more fully you absorb it. The more layers you discover.

Initially, your only senses are of the light from a projected film on the left walls, and the accompanying low, uncanny baritones that take advantage of the old wooden floors throughout the building.

“I wanted something that resembles the inside of a human being, like the pumping of the blood (…) a sound that you can recognize in an indirect way, a sound that you’re familiar with,  but you don’t really know from where.”

Peñafiel collaborated with local sound designer and musician, Ellis Anderson, (who created the soundtrack for the piece), to fit the music to the specific visual rhythms of the piece.

Providing a physicality to the admonishment of “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”, the rhythm of the characters walking in the video, quite literally resonate through your feet.

These sonic vibrations are absorbed somewhat by a dark mass in the center of the space, which makes access into, and navigation of the interior, something you need to be committed to. The mass is connected to the three screening walls by ropes. These cut and censor sections with their shadows. What you eventually make out, is that the anchoring mass is a collection of boxes, luggage and a single dish-display cabinet inscribed with a Derrida quote.

The longer you engage, the more layers you discover. Elements that been meticulously baked into the experience.

“The work that I used by Cosmo Whyte (Look Who’s Coming to Dinner) talks about Greensboro as a welcome city for refugees and migrants.”

Whyte’s piece, relocated from the communal dining area on the first floor was incorporated as a sonic disruptor - an overlay. While the installation audio visuals are on a 16 min loop, Look Who’s Coming to Dinner detonates a deep bass drone on the hour, every hour.  

“(T)he experience will always be different if you are lucky to catch it at the right moment, when Look Who’s Coming to Dinner starts playing.”

In homage to the space itself, Elsewhere, is translated into the most fitting Spanish phrasing for Peñafiel.

“The titles in all my works play as another layer to the pieces, In Ni Aquì, Ni Allà (Neither Here, Nor There) these characters are constantly walking (…) in a never-ending journey from the forest to the fields and cities and the sea and a desert, and trapped in this perpetual cycle.”

The projection itself spills out from one wall onto the surrounding room. Almost as if the virtual is merging with the physical space. Holes in the wall (from previous residents’ projects) are aligned with the backs of characters heads - a suggestion that some viewers take to it’s morbid conclusion, even though the bodies in the video are eternally struggling forward.

At the time of writing this piece, various media of migrant children to the US being separated from their parents and held by the US border control, are scattered through my social feeds. Tucked in between selfies, exhibition announcements, light-hearted fare about weekend activities and advertisements. This makes scrolling particularly jarring: the media following one of those solemn posts (i.e. emergency blankets over small, sleeping children on mats behind chain-linked fences) is definitely going to be less disturbing. Most likely it’ll be so stark a contrast in tone, that the said image of detained migrant children be trivialized. What’s the protocol for that situation? When that contrast in severity is disruptive enough, it forces me to exit the app and think about this new phenomenon for a second. Is this the virtual equivalent of smiling in a selfie at a site of genocide? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m pretty good at fading out those reminders of a shared-reality, after they infiltrate my virtual experience.

Peñafiel is hyper-aware of this societal callous coping-mechanism.

“I think I just try to remind the viewer that these situations are still happening, because injustice and disgrace have become normal. It seems like these situations fade away very fast from people’s mind, so for me, it’s bringing back those events and transforming them into a surreal version.”

The black and white video, and the choppy nature of the frames remind one of the old “classic” cartoon style. He tells me that was intentional: the patterns on the performers garments (stripes, polka dots, plaid), and exaggerated movements help the live action blend better with the animated background.

Peñafiel draws from a variety of migratory experiences (Latin America, the Middle East, Continental Africa), each one with it’s own specific political contexts and historical influences. However, it’s the common factors they share, that he extracts for an installation. The more universal the elements in the installation, the more viewers might project their own experiences onto the work - it becomes more relatable as a result.

I asked him how he feels about the partially ephemeral status of work created at Elsewhere - especially since he curated an entire space, instead of fabricating an art-object that can be easily moved.

“I’m aware that the piece can change its meaning. I think of it as creating an entity of itself, and I can only be attached to it until a certain point, after that point it is up to the piece.”

He’s also aware of the effect of time on certain contexts. For instance, some of the amassed works by previous residents, have slowly become problematic as attitudes and understandings have progressed. The same will happen to contemporary works to some degree - they’ll be re-contextualized by future Elsewhere residents.

We chat about authorship, audience and how artist statements can defeat the entire point of interactive work. He mentions an exchange he had with a viewer, where they bounced ideas back and forth about the installation.

“And that’s the process I want to happen with the piece - I give you a starting point (…) I don’t want to tell you what it is about, because if I tell you what it’s about then it becomes a one way conversation.”

For more additional information on Edison Peñafiel’s work check out his Instagram and website.


by Mandy Messina

The first point of resonance with Juju Holton’s practice, was during a video shoot for one of my projects--they mention they wrap their head because they have retired from hair.

Intrigued, I ask them to unpack what they mean by the term. They explain that hair acts as a marker for ethnicity, gender, religion, and/or class. Regardless of the subject’s intention, hair is read politically, economically, socially. Natural hair, chemically altered hair, weaves and extensions, hair under a hijab or in a doek. Covering ones hair is an act of rebellion--it omits enough information that the subject occupies more than one category simultaneously. This makes it harder to shortcut to a stereotype.

For the rest of the afternoon I can’t stop thinking of Schrӧdingers’ cat. But instead of a cat, I think of disembodied hair simultaneously an afro, a weave, dreads, intricate braids…

“Hair is everything and nothing at the same time.” they explained as we sit down for an interview at The People’s Perk, a black owned coffee shop in Greensboro.

For the performance piece, (h)OURS, they sit in a wicker chair referencing the iconic Huey P. Newton image, and braid a friends hair into cornrows while calling for testimonials, exclusively from black members of the audience.

“I don’t want to hear from anyone but black people, because--(they) can’t speak to this. Because it's ours.

Talking to this idea of appropriation. Everyone wants to take and take and recreate and rebrand, but you’ll never know what it's like to have your mom work two shifts and come home (to braid your hair).”

We have to backtrack a little:

The primary reason Holton initiated this performance piece (and the environmental justice project I’ll get into a little further on) is because they wanted to learn how to surf.

Guilford College, where they study, offers an interdisciplinary course called, The Blue Mind, which is about the effects of living in, on, around or near bodies of water. One of the three lecturers leading the course, Maia Dery, encouraged students in The Blue Mind to participate in the Art Department’s annual juried art exhibition. Juju starts reading up on performance art - specifically Nato Thompsons Living As Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991 - 2011, which opens with this nice, light Michel Foucault quote:

What strikes me is that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or house be an object, but not our life?

Trying to understand the concept of life as form by applying it to their own experience as a black femme, they strike on the concept of braiding hair.

“At this point I had already retired from hair, so to speak, so I said well braiding--what is more powerful in form than getting your hair braided?”

They planned to speak first, while braiding, about how they got to the point of retiring from hair as well as their experiences with black hair during different periods, and then invite the black audience to share their experiences.

“I understand the power of narrative and how narrative can be used to transform, and create change.”

Holton makes the point, however, that often a person simply speaking about their lived experience is not enough - it can be refuted. Once that experience is recontextualized as art, others are more receptive to the concept, some even engaged enough to investigate further.

“Art can take those voices and put them into places that they would not be able to reach.”

By validating the lived experiences of disenfranchised voices through scientific methodology, approaches like PAR (Participatory Action Research) provide similar benefits.

Holton realizes the power in combining both methods within their grassroot activism in Greensboro and beyond.

“I have dedicated a lot of my time and energy into grassroots organizing and learning about community injustice and policy work, and so it's, now I have this whole shift this semester where I’m learning about art and using art to represent.”

They mention the impact The Morris Justice Project has had on their practice - specifically the Stop And Frisk/Broken Windows project.

“As a researcher and as an activist (…) my dream is to do something like that in Greensboro.”

This merging of art and activism is something they incorporate in another piece that came out of the same class. An environmental justice project called H2afrO.

Highlighting a 2010 tragedy in Shreveport, Louisiana, Holton emphasizes the inability and fear associated with swimming, respectively, for many African Americans as falling under the umbrella of environmental injustice issues. In this one instance of many, 6 teenagers drowned after wading in shallow water and stepping off a hidden 25 ft. drop-off in much deeper water.

“My research found that if I have a fear of swimming, I’m not going to bring my child around the water (…) it’s a pattern, but patterns can be changed, this project really wants to pivot and bring awareness to the fact that this is important.”

Coach Kelcey, a woman of colour and Guilford College alum, owns their own company called SwimPhilly, out of Philadelphia. The proposed H2afrO program would offer three 30 min sessions for 3 weeks to three groups, (ages 4-9, 9-teens, as well as an adult class).

“Kelcey would come in with the actual swimming knowledge and I would come in with this concept of environmental justice and how this project fulfills that.”

“Policing is an environmental justice issue.” she tells me, as a means of explaining the theorist, Robert D. Bullard’s term Environmental Racism.

Holton emphasizes the need to broaden our understanding of environment to “include where you work, where you play, where you learn, where you live--those are all your environment.” Considering that definition, the water crisis in Flint Michigan--now in entering it’s fourth unresolved year--stands out as a prime and poignant example of a sacrifice zone. These sites of environmental damage often occur in low-income or marginalized communities, because of the low risk of accountability. Disenfranchised people can’t fight back.

Similarly, closer to home for the artist, is the legal gagging of communities when they do start claiming for damage to property and health caused by the hog waste industry.   

“North Carolina has it all, it has the mountains, it has the beaches, and it also has some really, really interesting things going on in terms of social injustice. But there's a lot of wonderful people here in NC who want to do something about it.”


Juju Holto's Instagram.


Oklahoma is endlessly fascinating to me as an artist - the material it offers up is as vast and varied as the terrain itself. That being said, artists of color in the region tend to have an eerily similar experience.

When my friend and fellow artist, Lawrence Naff, first started getting involved in the arts scene in Oklahoma City, he didn’t immediately find a welcome reception.

“I realized I was not only the only black person, but the only person that wasn’t white.” he says about the first arts association meeting he attended. Most jarring was the organizer, a woman who came over, spoke to another member for a while and then abruptly addressed him with, “Who are you?” . The subtext was obvious.

The experience prompted him to instead look for Black arts associations. His experience contacting Inclusion in Art founder, artist Nathan Lee, stood in stark contrast.

He was offered a solo show, a catalyst for the rapid trajectory his art career has taken.

The history of racial segregation in Oklahoma seems to filter into the arts, where a common euphemism used by art gatekeepers is “that’s not the direction we want to go with” or “it’s just not our style.”

This history is one, we Oklahomans, don’t reflect on often enough: Greenwood, now a district of Tulsa, held the moniker, Black Wall Street. This was because black prosperity was concentrated in one community as a result of the prohibitions of Jim Crow laws enforced in Tulsa. Another example is the precursory case to Brown v. Board of Education. Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher delayed her legal education in order to challenge the segregation laws enforced by the University of Oklahoma in the 1940’s. Spoiler: a unanimous vote by the Supreme Court Justices didn’t mean Fishers integration into the class was seamless.

The catch 22 on an integrated art scene in Oklahoma, is that when self-conscious organizations and artist collectives, do need to scramble to diversify (beyond a PR stunt), they run into a double dilemma:

Either they don’t know artists of color, or when they reach out to black and brown folk, the response is (rightfully) apprehensive.


Decoden is a very specific style, and one that art audiences in Oklahoma are not always familiar with. “There’s no way to describe it that will give them an (accurate) idea of what it is, so the closest thing I can say is a mosaic with rhinestones, or I cover things with jewels.” Naff offers.

He first learnt about the style at college from a Japanese friend on exchange. She had her MP3 player covered in rhinestones and it piqued his interest.

“Decoden is a Japanese-English fusion word. The word deco is short for decoration, and denwah (...) means phone. Decoden was originally decorating your cellphone with rhinestones and jewels, but people were later doing their laptops, tablets, digital cameras and other electronic accessories.” explains Naff.

The practice is time consuming. He spends hours meticulously gluing thousands of colored crystals or rhinestone onto the surfaces of 2D and 3D forms. Often the crystals surround a central gemstone or piece of costume jewellery, and cover the entire surface. Designs are created by clustering similarly colored crystals together.

One concept he has been developing for a while, came about when he first discovered the term White Flight.

Growing up in the 90’s, Naff had always thought his grandparents’ neighborhood was black.

“I found out that (the neighborhood) used to be white, until blacks started moving in (...) those are the parents or grandparents of people my age, and they thought, we’ve got these brown people moving in, we need to relocate to Edmond.” (a suburb of Oklahoma City) he told me.

Some white homeowners were misled by realtors, who insisted they sell before the value of the property dropped. “They believed it and ran out. Destroying the value.” Naff says, “It didn’t feel like we built it - just that we got someone’s leftovers.”

The designs he has planned for the plastic-dome surface of White Flight, includes cream rhinestones streaming out of the suburbs, while the Capitol building (represented by a cluster of quartz crystals) is enveloped by white rhinestones gentrifying the downtown. Similar colors cluster together in pockets of browns, mustards and black map out districts such as the community of refugees arriving from Vietnam after the war.  

Lighting is crucial when Naff is displaying his work. Even with several, harsh light sources focussed on an already sparkling piece, Naff explains that the final factor is movement.

With his 2D pieces, the viewer is free to move and creates the sparkling. With the 3D works however, he opts for a handsfree, battery operated rotating base which Naff says, “do(es) the work for you and it glimmers even more.”

“It helps it come to life, and it’s very relaxing watching something sparkle. I did research to find out why it’s so mesmerizing. It’s been explained that humans are drawn to sparkling things because it subconsciously reminds us of water - the reflection of light on water. We think of that as a life source.”


Naff accounts for his conceptual shift as a result of the constant barrage of police shootings of unarmed black men and children, as well as the trauma of the recent election.

“The last couple of years have been very stressful for me as a black person to the point where I’ve been preoccupied with racial issues a lot more than I was before.” He explains,

“What was bothering me, was white peoples reactions to seeing (police shootings) - coming up with so many (...) justifications a cop might have for shooting a 12 year old, or a man running away from him.”

Naffs trajectory is evident in his inclusion in a prominent, annual, statewide showcase of the contemporary artists practicing in Oklahoma. The event also happens to be the organizations largest fundraiser.

Recently he was featured in some PR material for the show. 60% of the featured faces on the promotion material for the exhibition opening, were people of color. On the night the photos were taken, they made up less than 10% of the patrons AND volunteers in attendance on the night it was photographed.

I mention this particular incident to Naff. “What that tells you is (...) they know it will be received better if they craft an image of diversity - whether they live up to that or not.” he responds.

At one point, Naff said a previous employer had a billboard up, which presented a grid featuring roughly 50 employees. He found it odd that the image created, was so much more diverse than the environment he experienced everyday.

“Some African employees, the one Korean guy, some white, I’m sure if they had an employee who wasn’t able bodied, they would have tried to get a wheelchair in the shot too.”

He plans on calling the piece either Designed Diversity or The Illusion of Inclusion.

The 2D piece is almost entirely covered in white rhinestones emanating from a large rhinestone. In a small grid representing the company’s mediated image, all the appropriately accounted for colors sparkle in pixelated harmony.

For more information on Lawrence please visit his website or check out his instagram

Additional Images:

Disrupting Divisions

Contemporary, online introductions, like how I met Antonius Bui, still send me down a rabbit-hole of "(blank) in the age of the internet".

I was tagged in a comment, on one of their Instagram posts, by a mutual friend we had met at respective residencies. The connection being that we were both based in Oklahoma at the time. At the time of this interview, Bui was one of the 2017 Tulsa Artist Fellows. This tag led to a binge-stalking of their Instagram feed. Then their website. Finally reaching out via DM and text.

Lucky for me, they were heading down to OKC for a visit to a friend, and were available for a meet-up over drinks. We met in the Plaza District, exchanged pronouns and rapid fire of common friends, experiences, projects and complications of living in Oklahoma as POC.

A few weeks later we met up for an interview at their studio in Tulsa. Antonius and DADA (their newly rescued dog) walked me over to the TAF studio building, where we began the interview.


Major/Minor is the collaborative blog Bui runs with their brother, Joseph. The space is one that presents interviews and profiles on queer and trans people of colour, as a means of visibility and self-presentation.

We always wanted to start a project together, and we're finally getting to a point where we are learning to collaborate more effectively.

Growing up in a family of four kids, both of us growing up queer and artsy, and feeling Othered in our strict, Catholic, Vietnamese family - we just wanted a way to build community wherever we went.

Being transient a lot of the time, they want to create a central space for others to gravitate towards - one that features the stories of exclusively queer, people of colour.

The blog posts feature photo portraits, and Antonius and Joseph (graphic designer) are focusing on new ways of visually conveying each interview.

I think a lot of people won't read through the whole interview, and I don't blame them, they take what they need.

The dream would be to create a multi-disciplinary platform, with podcasts, a zine, the blog itself and we need to hop onto social media. Major/Minor is a lifelong work in progress that can use all the help it can get. We would love to have people from all over the world send us content based out of their local communities. All you need is a notepad, camera, and recording device. Let’s decolonize our minds and rewrite history together.

The process of finding people to interview for Major/Minor relies heavily on personal introductions through friends they've met from the various residency stints across the country. Bui also isn't intimidated to use social media as a means of connecting directly.

I'll literally DM someone and be like, "Hey, I think you're awesome! Let's meet up!" And since the LGBTQ community is pretty small, I think we're all yearning for a community.

One of the more obvious and important repercussions of this project is that the digital platform, not only creates an accessible record of POC queerness, but also makes a diverse range of historical narratives available.


We grew up in the Bronx, and my parents did production work, so imagine scarves, ties, accessories... I grew up packed in materials at night with my parents, using the heat sealer, staple gun, putting tags on stuff.

I've always been interested in fashion, but having many friends and relatives who've done it, and growing up doing textile work for my parents made me aware of how much exploitation can be on the other end of it, I didn't exactly want to enter the fashion world.  

During my second year at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) I was approached by Josie Natori, who is a Filipino-American designer, to do a window display for her storefront in New York, for New York Fashion Week (2015).

This is a collaboration that is ongoing – Bui has recently finished a 4th installation for Natori.

One fantastic thing about MICA is that we have an annual benefit fashion show where you don't have to be a fashion or fiber major to showcase your line. This produces a interdisciplinary show that pushes the boundaries of fashion. It was an opportunity for me to collaborate with my great friend Robert Penn - it was an extremely performative show.

Bui and Penn’s collaboration for the MICA benefit fashion show was named Real Fun, (an anagram of funeral). Themes of death, rituals and spirituality were presented using cut paper techniques for garments, complimented by more theatrical costume elements such as tombstones and monsters. Watching the video of that performance, the lighting is an essential role in highlighting the context of these garments - the overall form and especially the “negative space” of the cuts are distinguished clearly from one another. The effect is something akin to a foliage or floral flourish on the models.

We came up with the idea of a military style formation, but then juxtaposed with the feminine, floral paperwork.

We also created tombstones and monsters - it's kind of hard to imagine, but it draws parallels in my mind - how it's all over the place, and I can't imagine a show without a multi-disciplinary approach. The show definitely mirrored how I express gender and break away from heteronormativity.


Bui's process of arriving at paper cutting was not straightforward.

They began at the University of Houston, in a field unrelated to art production.

I was studying chemistry at first, as a way to please my parents and their version of success.

In order to transfer to MICA, they spent a semester creating an entire portfolio – predominantly of photo-realistic drawings.

Every department I went to for a portfolio review was like, "You're a print maker!", and I was like, "I don't know what printmaking is, but I'm going to apply with this major".

I fell in love with relief printing, really enjoyed the production of screen printing, the multiplicity, the ease and then hand-cut paper work, I guess they developed side by side from there and it eventually just took over.

The hand-cut part is important to my work, allowing me to reflect: whether it's the interviews with people, the moments I've had with loved ones, being in queer spaces - for me it's like rewriting history in many ways. The paper begins as a white canvas which I puncture, allowing the background and my narratives to shine through.

The symbolism and meaning behind my use of cut paper has changed quite a bit. It first began as this interest in the history of paper, which started off in Asia and revolutionized the world in many regards. Then I was interested in dying - in the form of print. We're entering this technological age, and paper is a way to slow down. Now, for me, it's about rewriting history, writing queerness into that history - and POC queerness - since history is predominantly white.

I'll say this cutting work is much, more intuitive. Whenever I'm back home and I'm forced to go to church with my parents, I realize how much of my upbringing is in my work - it looks like how the church is structured, it looks like stained glass windows, it looks like excessive flowers at the church and it also references the áo dài - the traditional Vietnamese garments.

The cuts are so instinctive and ingrained in my brain, very cultural. While the newer body of work, the portraits, because I want to portray them as accurately as possible, they do start off as projected images that I then draw. They're more dictated, there's still space for interpretation - like the way I decide what's cut what's not, and what is perforated instead.


The most striking piece in during our studio visit was, the portrait of Chris Lopez.

I started exploring cyanotypes a lot because I was thinking more about the metaphor of light: shining light on a history that's often, not seen or heard.

The dark blue background of the cyanotype cloth contrasts against the paler form of the head and upper torso of Lopez. The body is layered with ghostly traces of leaves and words that fade in and out of legibility.

The cut paper portrait of Chris was shown at the Lawndale Art Centre in Houston. I used that piece as a stencil, and the middle region is a second cyanotype - I went over this stencil with a second exposure.

The darker piece over his mouth was a happy experimental accident, but many people have enjoyed it - since this (middle region) is actually a poem he wrote called: My Brown Skin.

The poems lines fade in and out of legibility creating a visual effect of waking up from a dream, ideas fading in and out of ones’ memory. The artist used Lopez's handwriting itself.  

It'd definitely one of the most rewarding parts of Major/Minor, where I interviewed him and was like, "Oh wait, Chris, I loved our conversation, I love our friendship, it would be an honor to portray you, may I photograph you?"

When I went to his house to photograph him, we were throwing around ideas, and he was like, “Oh wait, can I show you my journal?”

He showed me this poem that he wrote, and I said, "Whoa Chris this is what we need!" I like the ins and outs of the poem in many ways, having to fight to read it, as well, because you need to develop a bond and relationship with someone in order to get to this point.

Toward the end of the visit, we walked over to Living Arts, the gallery/project space where Bui had another portrait - one that had won Best in Show.

The work is of another artist, educator interviewed by Bui for Major/Minor: Noèl Puèllo.

Her portrait shimmers black and glittery as one moves past its space on the wall.The cut parts of Noèls’ clothing are simple strips that flop and fold themselves into facets that gently undulate at the slightest draft, or movement of a body around it. Her face is shaped and highlighted by intricate cuts that reveal the reflecting light from the wall underneath. Her features are bookended between her coiffed curls and beard, which flicker light caught on the dark glitter.

Whenever I win an award, and it has to do with the project (Major/Minor), I give a percentage to the person portrayed and then a percentage to a non-profit of their choice.

We’re giving 30% of the award to an art program that Noèl went to as a teenager, one she found her voice through.

This practice is something Bui, set into motion after seeing other artists exposing their subjects and related issues in an exploitative manner.

I'm still figuring out how to do it without feeling like I'm exploiting their story in any way. If you happen to have any suggestions, I am all ears. Though artists are often full of good intention, we sometimes enter communities, complete a project, and leave the people behind.

I make sure to title it with a quote from the interview, and it feels a little didactic, but I feel we do need to slow down.

We process images so fast through Instagram, that to have people take even three seconds longer to read a title is a small, meaningful gesture.


Bui manages to organically integrate their interviews into their visual-art, again, taking on a multi-disciplinary approach in all, creative endeavors.  For them, wearing several different hats (writer, artist, designer, performer) is an urgent necessity, one that comes out of a need for career survival.

We are often times judged by the skills we can provide. Taking that on and realizing that these are platforms for our voices to be heard is empowering in many ways, but I can definitely see the other side of it - it's restrictive. You want to concentrate on this aspect of my life, but have to do all the other parts in order to be recognized.

On Bui's website, they have separated their practice into three sections: Cut Paper, Explorations, and Major/Minor.

I have an issue with the way that I compartmentalize my work, I feel so much pressure to do that, by the art world. In order to secure funding, to get these fellowships, and to explore the other work, I need to continue this paper-cutting work. Not that I don't like them, but I do need to find a way to combine them more. Like combining drawing with the cut paper work, I'm still thinking of printing large format photos, and cutting into that.

Now that we're talking, I realize how important fashion is and how it continues to influence me. It combines every aspect into one form: photography for the shoots/editorial, the writing, the textile design, the performance aspect of the shows itself.


ReModel Minority and Model Minority Mutiny are two series of laser cut, monochromatic paper works featuring statements such as, “NOT YOUR MODEL MINORITY” and “NOT YOUR ASIAN SIDEKICK”. The work seeks to confront silenced issues of being a “Model Minority”.

This came out of a sense of urgency - both bodies were created in less than a week. I needed to make these for myself.

The term describes demographic as being perceived to be more successful socio-economically (ie. family stability, low-crime, highly educated and financially stable) than the general population.  The controversy around this term comes from the lack of government intervention and adjustments inequalities in the group, because of the perceived success.

This "model minority" thing is such a myth: there are so many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who are struggling. It not only affects AAPIs who don’t achieve/ don’t desire the “American Dream”, but also negatively impacts other minorities as well. For instance, my parents blame Black and Brown folks for their problems because they don’t understand systemic racism and their histories. The Model Minority Myth creates this unrealistic idea that hard work alone leads to success. Lies!

With Model Minority, I will say, I am so annoyed with apolitical Asians.

So many AAPIs can be so apathetic and I understand why: there’s huge history of separating us from Black people, and also riding on anti-blackness to get to that level.

I hate, hate the idea of the Asian guy who is into cars, and sport, who prefers skinny, pale Asian women, who lifts – they aspire to white “bro” culture so much!

They can be so complacent! Get politically involved and stand up for other marginalized groups.

Too often you only see Asian Americans stand up when it comes to cinema and actresses and actors - and it's important! But, where are we at marches and protests? Where are we for Black Lives Matter? Where are we for DACA?

This sense of solidarity is something Bui follows online via closed Facebook groups like Sad And Asian.

They started out as a phenomenal femme Asian Art collective, Sad Asian Girls, based out of New York.

The closed Facebook group relies on heavy moderation by the organizers – calling out users for inappropriate behavior and posts that do not follow the group rules.

Some of the rules include tagging everything: Friday is "LGBTQA day", Thursday is "Disabilities day", and Saturdays and Sundays are "No East Asians day" - so they're very aware of how East Asians are often highlighted over other Asian groups.

They provide reading groups, you can vent, advertise opportunities, even just, "Hey, I’m going through this - is anyone else going through something similar?"

It's politically charged and to be part of this group, is like "YES!"

Other groups that I have found include VANGUARD and the Tiger Balm Project, both fantastic zines that cater to Southeast Asians.

Now it's a matter of trying to get other Asian friends involved!

Yeah, a lot of the slogans (in Model Minority) were informed by conversations with community members or looking at problems other AAPIs go through, looking at AAPI resistance history as well - like reading about the term "Yellow Peril" and realizing, I wasn't taught any of this…it's crazy how much history was hidden from us!

Additional Information & Images:


Be sure to follow Antonius Bui’s interviews at Major/Minor (

The artists’ website is (

And posts regularly on Instagram (

Mandy Messina visited by Erin Latham

The best part about studio visits is having a conversation with someone you have conversed with many times, and coming away with a completely different view about their life, work, and ideas. This month, I visited Mandy Messina, friend, artist, and #nextdoorstudiosOKC member. Mandy is a thoughtful, kind, idea driven, individual who creates work that challenges societal norms and asks viewers to be better than what they have been. I can attest personally that every time I sit down to chat with Mandy, I leave the conversation ready to change the world for the positive. Her work is considerate of individuals in society, while it seeks to understand how we got here and how we can change the given structure. Mandy is an interdisciplinary artist from South Africa, living in Oklahoma. Her work deals with mimetic systems and access points into a given structure.

How did you find yourself here, in Oklahoma?

I came to here because my partner Aaron is from Oklahoma, we didn’t necessarily think about where we were going to be based we ended up here. There were some situations that made it appealing to stay near Aaron’s family. We met in South Korea and were both teaching English. I began a job with the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and it was a hard and fast introduction to the Oklahoma art scene. The small size of the staff at OVAC allowed me to learn a lot about artists in the state and opportunities. It heightened my confidence because I had access to see the submissions of other artists’ imagery and information and I could see the quality across the state. Having access to other artists enhanced my conviction in making work.

Has relocating here affected the work you are making?

Yes, I felt more comfortable making art here after college, because I felt a sort of trauma with my art during the last two years at school. During the last period at school I was trying new media/content. What was expected of me was to create work that centered on themes of being a person of color and what my professors imagined what that experience was like. It frustrated me that I was not allowed to pursue purely conceptual work. It may have been the way I read the situation, but it wasn’t a positive experience towards the end of my coursework. The consideration of art here in Oklahoma is broader than what I was exposed to in school. Moving here has altered the context of what I understood art to be. The stakes aren’t as high in the creation of art, and artists are establishing factions of different media, so that there is a place for everyone.

I appreciate Oklahoma, I’m grateful for it, but there’s also just enough of a conservative restriction to the state that keeps me making and wanting to push certain elements in my work. Sometimes I am ready to leave because of the conservative lilt, and other times I am able to channel that, and use it as something to create a disruption. It’s enough pressure to push out an idea that challenges the accepted norm.

Is the work driven from content in this way then?

Totally content. A lot of my work tries to stay in an experiential range- like writing a story, the best stories you write are ones that come from experience. It’s disingenuous to try to speak on behalf of someone else’s experience, which is a trap I fall into often. I come up with theory-based ideas frequently, and then realize that it’s not fair for me to speak on behalf of other people. I’m aware of that in my work, it’s a process because of the subject matter I am dealing with, and wanting to get my ideas across without putting words into others mouths. I tend to create politically informed work because that’s the lens I prefer. I’m interested in materials, but I think that the aesthetically pleasing nature of materials is less interesting, than the connotations attached to the materials themselves. For example embroidery- there was a certain time in history when only a specific group of women had access to it, and becoming refined in the art of needlework was an upper class activity.  In that time craft was something they spent time with, materials like needlepoint and applique. These materials have a specific connotation to them, and as a woman making embroidery that’s something I consider.  I’m also concerned in the subversive nature of needlework in art. Lately, more people are altering the context of craft based and needle based work, specifically men who are using the media of cross stitching and embroidery  to create a dialogue about the materials.

How and why did you begin using fiber art?

The needlework was a circumstantial thing. I’ve always been drawn to textile-based works but became captivated after our third year of University in South Africa.  We were expected to write a monograph about a South African artist, and I was lucky enough to interview Billie Zangewa.  I loved her work; she creates applique pieces using silk remnants to illustrate the mundane experiences along with poignant moments in her life.  Aesthetically it appealed to me, and was in the back of my head for a while. When I came over to the US I had the idea of the “Visa” series and I tried to create it in the same manner as Zangewa, but I didn’t have the finesse, material-wise it just looked like a mess. I knew I had to find a different avenue.

When I first moved to the United States, I wasn’t allowed to work because I didn’t have work authorization yet, I was able to use a lot of my time creating. Eventually we moved to Oklahoma and I didn’t have access to a studio space.  My partner and I were living in a situation that I am grateful for, but one that didn’t afford me space to create large works. I had to work out of a small handbag, I had all my embroidery thread and supplies in there. It was a combination of no studio space, and having to create work in small bits of time around my job and my living situation. Aaron and I were also sharing a car and I began to utilize the time during the commute to work and the time spent waiting for him to get off of work, to create needlework. 

How does the role of the system play a part in your work? Do the systems of aesthetics and the systems of bureaucracy relate to each other? Do they formulate something specific in your work?

System and structure, I’m not sure where it started. In university I made a recurring theme of mimetic objects for example the images of tiny people who make up a larger person. I was interested in the works of Do Ho Suh and impacted by his use of the mimetic. I continue to use that idea in the works today; the “Visas” piece has tiny stitches, which build up to create the final work. I even consider the use of small amounts of time and energy, used to create the larger whole as part of the mimetic process. The other structure in my work is the governmental processes, and civil engagements, that make up everyone’s experience. I am curious about how an individual is meant to fit into a particular society, community, or system. More specifically, how I, as an immigrant fit into Oklahoman society/community and how I function in the US and global structure as an individual. I’m also engaged in points of access in government and how each place has the same basic structure of documents, but are all slightly different based on their aesthetic. The distinctions between the bureaucracies are curious with how we are all taught in a specific structure but come out differently. For example how we all learn the same alphabet and writing structure but each of our handwriting is slightly different. The idea that at what point in the structure does the uniqueness of the individual fit into the rigidity of the system.

Recently you were involved in a project with local students and artists, what was the project?

Jarica Walsh and Katie Pendley two local artists, put together an exhibition entitled “Symbiotic” that paired local artists with students at the University of Oklahoma. Pairs were chosen by the curators of artist who had likeminded practices, or styles. I was paired with Bella Blaze, a student artist who is working on interdisciplinary and mixed media work that centers on consistent narratives. Bella and I had several ideas throughout this process, but we focused on one idea that came to fruition through game structure. We created a chainmail game, and we simultaneously sent each other packages with associated challenges to one another, and returned them back and forth. Bella developed a consistent narrative with their mailed pieces, but I had room to play, so I sent them things like, bad IKEA instructions for a sculpture, or instructions of making a game within a game. Each time I was able to look at what I did before and change it, if it didn’t “work”. Through this back and forth a few ideas came about, that I am excited to see come into creation.

Symbiotic, Detail

Symbiotic, Detail

Symbiotic, Detail

Symbiotic, Detail

Your ideas for this show seemed to branch away from traditional fiber works, did this exhibition help to create other ideas you’d like to explore?

Yes. Through the back and forth a few ideas came about, that I am excited to see come into creation. The first idea was focused on the unresolved colonial history of Oklahoma and the treatment of Indigenous people. The University of Oklahoma has a long history with Indigenous people, and their treatment. Being an outsider to this history but seeing it reflected in South African student protests right now, I am interested in colonial legacies and how Indigenous people function within the state, and country. Bella and I planned to utilize the space we were given to help a specific population. We wanted to create a space wherein we could work with a specific group, Indigenize OU, on what they need to continue day to day operations. This is something I am planning to explore in the future, possible with other groups of people. The second idea we focused on was (LARP) live action role-playing and meshing the boundaries of art/life into a game scene or art piece. 

Did working with a student artist give you any insights? Has it factored into how you are thinking about the future of art?

I have realized that there is so much potential in Oklahoma and people don’t necessarily see it because progressive individuals in university settings are making it. I have so much confidence and excitement for the next generation of artists that are coming up in Oklahoma.

How has working/living in several other countries had an effect on the work you are creating?

I have lived and worked in several places but I would recommend Teaching in South Korea to anyone who is interested, it was two of the best years. Obviously, there are a lot of small issues foreigners might have in South Korea, that can make it difficult, but it’s a wonderful experience. Korea was the one time that the bureaucratic nature of moving to another place was really easy for me. I became interested in the aesthetics of how the lay out their documents, and the process you have to go through.

Has this played a role in works you’ve created since being there?

Actually, I think more so, that I was influenced by the aesthetics of the documentation I needed in several countries I visited. Specifically the way in which self mediated imagery is employed in official documentation, or how image conscious some of the countries I lived in are.  For example I have a Japanese visa photo that looks almost nothing like me, because the photographer edited it so much. He insisted that instead of taking an everyday photo that there needed to be some consideration of this photo, he insisted on styling my hair, and later when I received the image it looked as though he had lightened my skin tone and faded things. It was almost as if he had put a soft filter on my photo. It’s fantastic but it doesn’t look much like me. It was an interesting experience, but it totally fit into one of the East Asian aesthetic ideas that are applied to images there. Similar to that is the image conscious nature of Korea. In the girls’ high schools, there are generally mirrors, when you walk in the front entrance, so that you can adjust your appearance in order to present your best self. In one of the school’s I worked at there was a scale next to the mirror. I’m not sure what that says to the girls or about the image consciousness of the society exactly.  These image conscious ideas have influenced the work I’m making.

Your artistic practice and exhibition record have been super prolific lately. Can you tell us about some of your recent and upcoming projects?

Recently I’ve been adding performative aspects into my work. I created my first performance based piece at the AHA Festival of Progressive Arts in Santa Fe, entitled “SHIFT ALT DELETE” I toyed with the idea of turning myself into a Foreign Service Officer and forcing people to fill out forms of an imagined country. People could then come and create their own fake IDs, either using a false identity or their own. I reimagined a speculative history based on the idea of a three-tiered process. The documentation was either based on: what if a country was run as a corporation, what would have happened if all colonization was flipped and African countries had colonized European, or the idea of sovereign states but independent countries and existing next to each other.  The work was the recreation of documentation for each of these ideas. People could dress up in costumes pertaining to the ideas and then have their id printed on the spot.





What are some of the other projects you’re working on?

I’ve been asked to create a project for “Inclusion in the Art”. They asked me to do a lecture series or a workshop. I am excited for this, because I love teaching in the respect of taking in information and processing it to benefit the audience. What they are trying to do in the black community in OKC is to expose people to different ranges of art making. You can create an experiences for people to take in. I’m lining up artists to help drive this point home.

I also have a six-week residency coming up in Northwest Oklahoma, in Alva at a University, in a rural, conservative, small town in which the only international people are the ones on the campus. I proposed an idea in which I want to link the emergence of Science Fiction and Colonialism. I’ve been reading and thinking about in 19th century when there was a scramble for the colonization of certain parts of Africa and Asia, at that same point you began seeing Sci-Fi in literature. I read an article that spoke about questioning the idea that white Sci-Fi authors always seem to imagine the subjugation of themselves in science fiction. It’s always some other “alien” race that comes and causes harm to the normal society. Which is opposite to the reality of what has happened throughout history. I haven’t decided exactly how to create this work but would like to use some sort of textile/fiber art context. I am also likening the idea of current society and the images we are presented that exclude people of color to the Sci-Fi/Colonization project.

I love this idea of addressing the issue of how we create the “other” in literature, society, and life. Is this something that pervades the work you are making?

Yes. I am interested in how we alienate each other outside of what is the societal/social norm.  I’m influenced by artists who deal with issues of the invisibility of whiteness, or how the idea of whiteness has become what is normal or regular and this becomes invisible through the language we use, and the conditioning of society. I recently purchased a magazine with a person of color on the cover and was frustrated at the lack of representation of other people of color within the pages. I want to create a piece that addresses this idea alongside the Sci-Fi project in order to link the two and to exhibit my frustration at not being represented.

I’ve also been recently introduced to the idea of Kai Zen. Each day you begin to try to become 1% better at something. So eventually you become so much more efficient. I began thinking about it on a larger scale with my life, and the overall society as a whole. There are a lot of things in society that are moving at a warp speed right now, which is good because it’s making up for lost time. Ideas like Black Lives Matter and the improvements within the LGBTQ community, for example.  Certain people in society, especially here in the South, are finding these things to be moving too quickly, and threatening their way of life, but in reality society seems to finally be slowly improving, we are Kai Zening. All this lost time is exponentially getting faster and faster. I’m finding that my own growth is happening in trying to find gentle explanations about this, for people I meet in my life, and my job, that aren’t comfortable with all ofit. It seems like sometimes this is amplified here in Oklahoma, and it makes it a great place to have these conversations.

For more information on Mandy, please visit her website or check out her instagram

Additional Images: