Katie Yun is a visual artist from Pasadena, CA, currently living in St. Louis, Missouri. Through work that challenges normative views on Asian Americans in the United States, she hopes to explore her own Korean-American identity with a blend of art, writing and social justice commentary.
Although having practiced art from a young age, Katie has only recently begun to share her journey with race, sex and belonging through her work. Find below her words on her obstacles and inspirations as an Asian American woman — and the sheer uncertainty that accompanies finding oneself as she navigates what the future may bring.
MØJÖ: Tell us about yourself.
I’m going to be a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. I love my friends. I’m super lucky for the community and support I have found [there]. Otherwise, I would feel much more terrified about the future.
M: How long have you been doing art?
I think I started art classes around second grade at Mission: Renaissance, an art school chain in Southern California. God, I hated that place. They made me hold the pencils and pastels in the most uncomfortable way while sitting on top of the most uncomfortable art horses ever built. But I wasn’t the worst in the class. Even from a young age, I knew art was one thing I could potentially be good at.
As the eldest in an Asian-American family, my parents pushed me to be in a profession that was lucrative, and, in order to combat the pressure, I was drawn to art from a young age and grew to love it. My parents [eventually] supported me after seeing the amount of time and dedication I put into my work, but my love for art originally began out of rebellion.
After first discovering art, it was always part of my life in some way. I was always told to do art as a hobby, so I didn’t take it seriously until the summer before my senior year of high school. That summer was also the first time I truly experienced racial tensions — or at least the first time I took a moment to stop focusing on my crippling insecurities and notice the world around me.
Afterwards, I went on to study art in St. Louis, MO, but it wasn’t really until this past year that I was driven to investigate those prejudices through my art practice.
M: What are you working on now?
I’ve been obsessing over this zine I’m making for Fort Gondo, a non-profit art compound, for about 2 months. Right now, I’m working on recognizing my own role in the erasure of my Korean identity.
With my current zine, I am taking apart two poems by Franny Choi: one, “To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice,'” and two, “Orientalism (Part II).” I’m pairing bits of poem with cropped images of my body and Korean food in order to express the narrative of the fetishization of my body by white men in the past, as well as to investigate my internal discourse of falling into a relationship with another white man.
I’m also starting the Sprouted Radish Supper Club [self-described as “an unpretentious environment to connect people through food”] with one of my best friends, Sachi Nagase. We’re blending our art training and love of cooking to create an affordable dining experience.
We just had our first event, with a menu based on the exploration of our Asian identities. Each of the five courses was paired with different teas and drinks — all for $10 a person. We had so much fun and are already planning our next event.
M: Is there a particular reaction you’d like to see in response to your work?
With my recent work investigating my Korean-American identity, I want those who relate to feel heard — and those who don’t to gain some understanding of others’ experiences. I know that, as a cis, East-Asian, upper-middle-class, queer woman, I have privileges that others don’t; however, I hope that, by diving more into my personal experiences, I shed some light on what it is like to be an East-Asian-American today.
I really loved the response to my piece named “”, a book of 43 quotations regarding my race people have told me throughout my life. It’s the first book I’ve ever made — let alone the first work I’ve made in regards to my Asian-American identity — so I loved the process of making it. The WashU faculty expressed an extremely positive response, and it gave me the confidence I needed to continue investigating my identity through my art practice.
Honestly, the faculty and students I’ve met at Sam Fox [the Fine Arts School at Washington Univeristy] have been so important to my practice. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. There was one night where Sachi and I were printing cards, t shirts and notebooks before St. Louis’ Print Bazaar. It was 5 a.m., and Sachi and I both had the same class the next day at 8 a.m., so we slept in the critique room of the print shop until 7:30 a.m.. We were delirious, and it was hilarious.
M: Where do you see yourself going in the next couple years?
I really loved making the my last zine “Ni Hao part 2,” where people submitted writings about their Asian-American identity. I want to make more zines and books. I love working with text and image.
M: What kind of meaning do you hope your work carries, both now, previously, and in the future?
I’m lucky because right now, I’m part of this wave of consciousness that popularizes Korean culture, as well as the experiences of Asian Americans in the U.S.. To be honest, I just want people to feel heard and to gain awareness. I hope that people don’t see it as “kitschy” or “gimmicky.” My work means a lot to me, and I hope it does to others.
M: Why do you do what you do?
I don’t know. Life can take me a lot of places. I don’t have a clear plan of what I want to do in the future. I guess we’ll see.