Fighting Racism with Art: Asian Artists Take the Lead

May 25, 2020 | AA, ART, Asia, CULTURE, NEWS

The effects of the pandemic are still greatly felt, but there’s one more problem that has escalated because of it: Racism. Asian-Americans adversely affected by xenophobia have finally spoken up. Hear what artists, influencers, and designers have to say. 

COVID-19 has caused healthcare systems to turn upside down, businesses to close their doors, and the global economy to crash. Adding to these vicious string of difficulties is the rampant xenophobic-fueled violence and discrimination that prosecutes Asians and those of Asian descent. 

“The pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering” and urged governments to “act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his appeal to end hate speech.   

As several global leaders and officials let this problem go by, white supremacist and anti-immigrant groups have latched on to the crisis to push their xenophobic movement forward that seeks to demonize Asians. 

Since the pandemic, Asians have been targeted by the media, statements of politicians, and social media platforms by derogatory language, and were even labeled as the culprits of spreading the virus. US President Trump even used the terms “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu” instead of COVID-19. 

Asians Speaking Up Through Art

Monyee Chau, a multimedia artist of Asian descent from Seattle has fond memories of the Chinatown-International district growing up. She usually spent her time in her family’s Seafood restaurant – a childhood experience that ultimately inspired her art. But due to virus-related closures, Chau’s paradise became a thing of the past. 

In April, a restaurant owner from the area witnessed a group of men wearing dark sunglasses unabashedly plastering stickers with the slogans “Better dead than red” and “America first.”  

“It goes back to the same rhetoric that white folks have used about China and communism and the ‘Chinese virus,’” said the artist, adding that she felt unsafe that white supremacists could literally be one’s neighbor.  

Despite being scared, she felt the need to act. Inspired by her Chinese protective charms, she went on to design a poster with bold red letters that says “Chinatown, Filipinotown, Japantown, Little Saigon were all built on resilience. We will survive this, too.” 

Chau is not the only artist brave enough to heed the call to protect her fellow Asians. Instagram and social media have also become vital platforms to release relevant content on the issue.

View this post on Instagram

❣️Link in bio takes you to free PDF downloads of this poster in 11x17” print for you to post, print, share. Also links to projects you could support during a threatening time to cultural institutions including @winglukemuseum @mocanyc @camlaorg @wingonwoandco - feel free to send more if you would like for me share ❣️ •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• 🏮The resurgence of yellow peril in Chinatowns globally are threatening the livelihood of these neighborhoods. They are charged by xenophobic, racist ideologies about Chinese folks, threatening these already vulnerable communities. 🏮Yt nationalist stickers were put all over Seattle’s CID, with the intent of striking fear. I made these posters to counteract these acts of hate, and to remind us of the strength and resiliency that built these neighborhoods. 🏮Let these scary times remind the Asian American community that whiteness was never achievable. That these are the things that BIPOC communities have always faced and true liberation lies within solidarity. 🏮This poster was based on the international district in Seattle so apologies for not including Koreatown. 🏮 As I am located in Seattle on Coash Salish and Duwamish land, you are welcome to join me in postering! Let me know below and I will get in touch with you. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• #seattle #seattleart #chineseamerican #asianamerican #asianamericansolidarity #seattleartist #chinatowns #covidresponse #covid19response #covid19art #illustrations #chinatowns #resilience #resiliency #art

A post shared by Monyee Chau (@monyeeart) on

Chella Man, a genderqueer Jewish-Chinese LGBTQ activist, artist, and fashion model uploaded a photo of him with a mask that says “The only virus present is your racism.” He also shared his experience riding a subway where a white woman glared at him and two other Asians as they sat down.

Rose Wong, a talented Chinese-American illustrator shared that she has also been personally affected by xenophobia. Wong even admits to being nervous coughing in public.

One of the most striking pieces she uploaded on social media is meant to get across how a look from someone is powerful and scary for Asians who are considered as the “model minority.” She even shared how shocked she was when the model minority “privilege” was taken so quickly due to the virus.

Prabal Gurung, one of the leading Asians in the fashion industry also spoke up about the issue saying that “Our leaders should not be using terms like ‘Chinese virus.’” Gurung recently collaborated with All Americans Movement, a campaign to support marginalized communities affected by the virus, to design a shirt that aims to unify one another and defy all the stigma and stereotypes linked to Asian culture.   

The Time to Speak Out Is Now

With many people putting a target on the backs of Asians and blaming China for the virus, it’s normal to feel anxious and scared. However, it’s also the best time to unite in fighting this disease. Now more than ever, it is essential to keep the peace rather than spread hatred and divisiveness. Join the fight against Racisim, see more info at Stop