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Ones to Watch: Meet the Siblings of Burdock Media

The name “Burdock” stems from the North Asian and European plant of the same name; the root is commonly used across several Asian cuisines and is one that acts as a powerful cultural tie for the siblings of Burdock Media. For Peter Ash Lee and Hannah Chloe Lee, their arts and culture platform was born out of the need to tell more diverse stories, and show that as a collective community, the creative world contains a multitude of backgrounds. 

Their publication explores the multi-dimensionality rooted in the Asian American diaspora through the lens of media, art, fashion, and lifestyle. This April, their first annual print issue was centered around the notion of “Celebration. Featuring actors and designers such as John Cho and Phillip Lim, the magazine strives to address visibility within the Asian Community, but also within society as a whole. Aside from the featured talent, the siblings have managed to cultivate a vast network of Asian American contributors. (Peter, himself, is a photographer with work featured in magazines like  Vogue, Dazed, The New York Times, and T Magazine.)

Milk visited Burdock Media’s studio in the heart of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Walking into their space, one is immediately buzzing with creativity. Images of their new objectives were pinned on 8’ V-Flats, and boxes of Issue No. 1’s were stacked and ready to be shipped. We chatted with the pair about the concept of their platform, what they hope to achieve, and the importance of being seen.

Check out their latest issue here.  

What is Burdock and how did you and Hannah come up with the concept?

 Peter Ash Lee: Burdock is an arts and culture platform celebrating multi-dimensional Asian American experiences. Growing up I never saw myself represented in media, be it magazines, TV, or in the movies.  Even when I decided to pursue a career in photography, I wondered if it would be a possible path for me as I wasn’t aware of other Asian American photographers working in the US. Especially in the past year, we’ve experienced the power of being seen, through movies like Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell.  We wanted to be a part of the movement for change and create a platform to share our stories.

What is the significance of the name Burdock and why did you choose it as the name of your magazine?  

Hannah Chloe Lee: Burdock is a plant with a root that’s commonly used across many Asian cuisines, and that cultural tie and notion of connection really resonated with us the minute we landed on it. 

 Can you explain your experience in the fashion and media industry and how it has encouraged both of you to create a publication that represents your culture? 

PAL: It sometimes feels like shooting a POC model is part of a checklist for companies or publications to avoid getting in trouble or to seem diverse, rather than actually embracing the value of diversity.  And too often, we still see fashion stories that are very problematic where models of color are used as props or eroticized. It still leaves me with a feeling of being ‘othered’ and perhaps… I still don’t feel like the fashion industry actually finds us equally beautiful.

HCL: It ultimately affects how we’re perceived and can challenge our sense of selfhood—who we think we can be, how we feel we can move through this world.  Burdock was born out of a need to tell more diverse stories, and show that as a collective community, we contain so many multitudes. 

What problems have you seen within the fashion industry?   

PAL: I would love to see more diversity behind the scenes, as well as in front of the camera.  It was amazing to see Tyler Mitchell shoot Beyoncé as the first black photographer to shoot an American Vogue cover in 126 years!  I’m waiting for the first Asian, Latinx, etc. photographer to shoot covers of Vogue and other major publications.  I think the dynamic between a photographer and subject is really powerful, and with Burdock we’re providing more opportunities for Asian American photographers and writers to tell our own stories through our own lens. 

Being that Burdock Media centers around multi-dimensional Asian American experiences in the media and entertainment sector, can you tell us how the magazine accomplishes this through the content it produces?

HCL: While there’s so much beauty in our shared collective experiences, we also know that the “Asian American experience” is vast and it was really important that we capture that multi-dimensionality.  We try to center each issue around a broad theme—our first issue was around Celebration and our upcoming issue is about Sound—it enables us to share stories from a diversity of voices and experiences, get connected with different communities, and bring them to the forefront. 

Do your experiences growing up have any influence on the creation of the magazine?

 PAL: We titled our first editor’s letter “An Ode To Our Teenage Selves.”  We wanted to create a magazine that our younger selves would’ve loved to have seen and we hope this platform can help pave the way for a new generation of Asian American youth to dream of endless possibilities.

Can you explain the importance of visibility in the Asian American culture in the media industry? 

HCL: There’s a powerful quote that says, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and we think there’s so much truth in that.  Increased visibility and positive representation in mass media have the ability to impact entire generations by shaping our understanding of what we can be, while also shaping the way we’re seen and understood by society at large.  

What are some of the things we can look forward to in the near future from the magazine? 

PAL: Our upcoming Spring 2020 issue will explore the theme of Sound, touching on everything from music to the diverse definitions of ‘sound’ across the Asian American collective.  We’re also looking to launch a podcast in the upcoming year!

Stay tuned to Milk for more Ones to Watch

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