The Sad Asian Girls Club Is Demolishing Outdated Ideas About Asian Women
Asian women are not all docile.
Asian women are not submissive.
Asian women are not unaware.
Asian women are not weak, don’t mess with us.
They aren’t, and Sad Asian Girls Club wants to make sure you know it.
SAGC is an unique art collective that focuses on intersectionality of race and gender. “These issues are not separate, and they should be discussed together,” one of the founders, Olivia Park, told the Huffington Post. This intersectionality is seen and felt in core of their projects, as they want to “break the culture of silence and passivity of Asians during discussions of social issues.” Their first project looks at the complex, and at times, frustrating, relationship between first generation mothers and their Asian-American daughters. SAGC followed with “Asian women are not,” which was an installation defying the degrading stereotypes while tackling topics like tokenism and fetishization that Asian women are often subjected too. They asked for submissions and compiled 100 statements from 100 different women, hoping to “communicate disgusting Asian women stereotypes to passerbys and drivers.”
SAGC is now on its third project, the MODEL MINORITY series, with the last segment dropping today. Fifteen young Asian women were interviewed for the three-part video project, which was created to look at how the model minority myth plays detrimental roles in Asian women’s lives. In the first part, Asian women talk about what the model minority myth means to them. Though the concept of a model minority is something that may “seem good, or complimentary even,” it implies that “they transcend the struggles of average people of color,” which just isn’t true. The second part digs deeper into the effects of not only the model minority myth, but Asian stereotypes that were created by both Asian and Western cultures. The women give powerful reflections from their own experiences, touching on mental illness, internalization of the myth, dual identities, loss of individualism, and the pain they felt and still feel.
The third, freshly released segment consists of the women’s thoughts on how society can debunk the model minority myth. The women call for media outlets to hire Asian writers to present a more accurate representation on the screen, the importance of not erasing South Asian identities, and appreciating individualism.
The founders of Sad Asian Girls Club, or SAGC as they like to call it, are two students at the Rhode Island School of Design who are passionate about the collective–so much so that they self-fund and self-manage it. Though Esther Fan and Olivia Park first met through a mutual friend at a small party in freshman year and saw each other at parties and on smoke breaks, they only started started to collaborate after they were in the same design studio classes. They are activists through their art and, with the reach and power that social media offers, they are connecting with sad Asian girls all over the world.
I was reading comments on your manifesto video, and someone said this: “I feel as if I have been waiting for this for a long, long time.” For some, we’ve been waiting and for others, we didn’t even know we needed this. What prompted the two of you to just do this? To just get going with the collective?
It has taken even ourselves a long time to realize the systematic oppressions and injustices of people of color. It takes a certain amount of openness and willingness to acknowledge not only one’s own privileges but also to realize ignorance is not bliss; we are still learning even today and continually improving the way we navigate our environment. “Have You Eaten,” started off as a way for us to vent about the traditional expectations of our parents’ cultures that we seem to have failed to fulfill as third culture kids. Our followers proved to us that we weren’t alone, and that we could in fact continue venting in the form of projects and our followers could do so with us.
THere’s no doubt that there is a lot of misrepresentation and racism in the media. However, are there any Asians that you look up to? Who gives you hope?
Obviously, firstly, influential figures like Amy Tan, George Takei, Grace Lee Boggs, and Yuri Kochiyama continue to inspire us. We also look at Instagram figures and other contemporary creatives for inspiration including Sanam Sinhi, Kathleen Kye, Carol Lim, Ren Hang, Dr. Woo, Malala Yousafzai, Kristen Kish, Dumbfoundead. These people are incredibly good at what they do and inspire our generation to be proactive and do something about our obsessions and frustrations. Being that there seems to be so few of us, we try to keep an archive of all and any Asian figures we discover over time, such as BUFU, Eternal Dragonz, and Banana Mag.
How do you two feel about the hashtag, #StarringJohnCho?
The hashtag is great; there are only so many Asian actors in Hollywood. Inevitably, one of the most desexualized group of people in media are Asian men. In our MODEL MINORITY series, we discuss the dearth of Asians in media and the lack of variety in roles of Asian figures who do exist; we’re often put into the tropes of nerd, lab assistant, terrorist, and only either the unattractive sidekick friend (for men) or the oversexualized submissive sex toy (for women). The hashtag allows Asians to start having a platform to speak out on these issues in a way that also communicates very clearly to non-Asians. We have also started to see other Asian figures like Aziz Ansari, Margaret Cho, Constance Wu, and Dumfoundead speaking up about their experiences as Asians in white Hollywood.
Although we do still have a long way to go in terms of more representation for queer, non-binary, trans Asians as well as non-East Asians, it’s encouraging to see that famous Asian figures are beginning to recognize and utilize the privileges they have as well as recognizing the privileges they don’t have.
I'm really good with numbers.
— #StarringJohnCho (@starringjohncho) June 10, 2016
You two are on your third project. What is your thought process when coming up with these uniquely different projects?
Projects usually start to form when we recognize particular subjects that we feel need to be communicated to the public. We decide on a specific message we want to say and from there, we determine the best medium for the project. It sounds a lot simpler than it really is; oftentimes, we could feel completely confident in the way things are progressing but in the middle of the process completely chuck it out the window because a) we get bored or b) it wasn’t how we initially imagined it to be. We’re pretty good about keeping each others’ spirits up, which is one of the benefits of collaborations.
As graphic designers, there’s no doubt that your choice of colors, font, and design was purposeful. Why did you two choose red and black?
Currently, we are planning to re-brand SAGC, but we can say that the black and red came about from our original mood boards for our work which ended up containing a lot of red. Red seems to be very prevalent especially in East Asian cultures and we feel black has become a color of power among young people. From the 60’s and 70’s, the Black Panther Party and members of the Yellow Power Movement also used the colors black and red.
It’s funny because we’ve been told by our peers that SAGC’s branding is very intimidating and exclusive. But we’ve concluded that there is nothing in the things we want to say that is or should be soft, gentle, and comfortably consumed.
Any ideas for future projects?
We really don’t know what our next moves will be in terms of new projects; after the Model Minority Series we will be taking some time to fully develop SAGC’s design elements as well as clarify our goals. We want to keep the soul and what makes SAGC exciting for us as well as our viewers. SAGC has become more managerial than we would like; we are both on our last year of our degree and want to continue the good vibes.
What are some of SAGC’s goals? Short term and long term?
I suppose following up on that last question, we will be using our time this summer and next semester to re-evaluate SAGC. Our short-term goals include re-branding and re-envisioning SAGC and finding further resources and individuals to help guide those visions. Our long-term goals include raising enough funds to continue projects, collaborating with more established/establishing creatives, and cultivating a larger team of like-minded motivated individuals after we graduate.
Ultimately, while we do not want to keep the content of our work lighthearted, we want SAGC to continue to be something enjoyable and entertaining for both our followers and our team.
Stay tuned to Milk for more politically active artists.