Taylor Wang is an artist (@yingshiart) and activist from Washington State who is focused on elevating the artwork of historically marginalized artists through @studentartspaces.
Why did you decide to start Student Art Spaces?
I’m currently a junior in high school. When I was a sophomore, I went through a period in life with a lot of anxiety. As an Asian-American, there is a lot of cultural taboo against pursuing a career based on passion — parents encourage you to pursue careers in STEM. It’s almost shameful to pursue a career because you like it instead of making money. I published an article about my experience and it went viral on NextShark. But there were comments on the article like “she’s a disgrace to her family” and things like that. It was insane. Another thing that influenced me is that even though I’m Asian American, I’m still in a position of privilege. I can uplift artists that have less privilege.
How do you think having a resource like Student Art Spaces would have helped you as a burgeoning artist from a minority background?
If I had that support as a 13 year old, like if I saw an exhibit of other young artists of color, I would have so much more confidence to pursue what I want to pursue.
How do you operate?
We are entirely youth-led. We set up an event every few months or so, depending on how much work is required. Our current gallery is called Coming Home. We do all the fundraising ourselves; our mission is to make all our galleries equitable. Artists don’t have to pay fees, which is something that hinders under-privileged artists because there’s a $60 application fee and on top of that you have to hang your work and ship it. We have a couple of grants that support us, and we also do crowdfunding from Kickstarter and funding from individual donors. I’m really taken aback by all the support we’ve gotten by this youth-led initiative.
Why is representation important?
Representation is so important in these spaces because if you’re growing up and you don’t see anyone who looks like you on these platforms — particularly for those platforms like the entertainment industry and the arts, where our parents discourage us from them because they’re afraid we won’t be successful — it trickles into this model minority mindset. People assume we aren’t interested in politics and other things because we just want to be economically successful. It shrouds us in a stigma, like we’re harmless, we’re not going to get involved in politics.
How do you see Asian Americans being underrepresented or misrepresented in the media?
Asian Americans are either the nerd, the side character or the hot girl, the exotic girl. We’re not the protagonist. We’re not humanized. We are either the villain who is demonized and exotic or the side character. It’s very two dimensional; in places where people don’t live in diverse areas, the only perception they get of us is through the media. If harmful stereotypes are the only thing they are seeing, that’s how they are going to perceive us. People tend to think that Asian Americans have a lot of representation nowadays, and it’s gotten better with Parasite and Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell, but there’s still not a lot of representation that’s not Chinese-centric. People tend to think that ‘Asian’ is just East Asian, and that leaves out a huge proportion of the Asian population.
It’s one thing to get involved with an organization that exists; its another thing to start something yourself. What advice do you have for other young people who are interested in starting their own project or organization, but are hesitant?
For young people it can be very terrifying because there is a stigma around Gen Z that we are lazy and not ready to work in the “real world.” It’s important for young people to be starting their own organizations because it shows everyone how capable we are as a generation. Don’t be scared to take risks — go full force at it, don’t let yourself be scared by little roadblocks. We had a lot of those when we were first starting the process. We were just two teenagers sitting in a McDonalds Googling things, and I think that’s actually really cool because it shows how much technology and the internet can enable our generation to do things that haven’t been done before. Like Nadya [Okamoto, founder of Period.org] started her own organization, and Maya Seigel [founder of Space to Speak], I think it’s so incredible to see how capable and powerful young people are. If you are a young person who sees an issue in your community, and there hasn’t been anything done about it, do it. Google things, gather your friends, don’t be scared to reach out to other leaders. Don’t be afraid to make the first move.