A collage of photos depicting the six BIPOC recipients of 4Culture's 2021 Arc Artist Fellowship

4Culture 2021 Arc Artist Fellowship Recognizes Six BIPOC Youth Artists and Activists

by Mark Van Streefkerk

At the end of March, 4Culture announced this year’s Arc Artist Fellows: six BIPOC artists and activists all between the ages of 18 and 25. The annual Arc Artist Fellowship supports each artist with an unrestricted $12,000 grant. The fellows will receive marketing support through 4Culture’s website and social media platforms and come together later in the year as a cohort to publicly present and celebrate their work. This year’s Arc Artist Fellows are multimedia artist Diego Binuya, dancer, artist, and maker Mikhail Calliste, storyteller and visual artist Monyee Chau, visual artist Joyee Runninghawk, storyteller, director, and aural producer Kayla Stokes, and visual artist and clothing designer Saiyana Suzumura. 

Now in its fourth year, the Arc Artist Fellowship is unique in that it is intended to be flexible to the needs and feedback of the fellows, who also get to determine the eligibility requirements for next year’s cohort, thus creating the “arc” of the program. The 2020 fellows were five artists over 40 who identify as transgender, Two Spirit, nonbinary, genderqueer, or gender nonconforming. When it came time for their input on the next cohort, they wanted to shift the focus to youth artists and activists.

4Culture art program managers Melissa Newbill and Heather Dwyer designed and co-direct the Arc Artist Fellowship. Reflecting on this year’s fellows, Newbill said, “There’s visual artists who are also clothing designers and storytellers who are also directors and podcast producers. They have so many different facets to their work. In a year that was so dark and horrific, it was so amazing to read these applications from artists who want to change the world and who are actually already doing it.”

One of those artists is Diego Binuya, a queer Filipino artist who since high school has been organizing with Seattle’s Anakbayan chapter, a radical youth and student organization that fights for national democracy in the Philippines. Binuya said they weren’t necessarily drawn to art growing up but came to it through a growing revolutionary consciousness. Organizing with Anakbayan, Binuya discovered the joy of creating banners, flyers, and other political art.

“I consider myself a propagandist,” Binuya said. “I know propaganda is a dirty word in a lot of ways, but looking at propaganda as a way of putting forth a message … every piece I make I strive for it to be an effective piece of propaganda — whether that is the message of the National Democratic Movement of the Philipines, or anti-racist work, or anti-displacement work, or abolition. We have this understanding that art is political. Why not lean into that?”

Two individuals stand wearing Diego Binuya's work: a screen-printed image from the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines onto both garments which are meant to be worn together.
One of Arc Artist Fellow Diego Binuya’s works: They screen printed an image from the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines onto two garments, meant to be worn together, ideally at a march or rally. (Photo: Diego Binuya)

One of Binuya’s works featured in their grant application was a screen print of an image from the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines which they screen printed across two garments. “The purpose of that piece was to be able to wear it at a protest or march. When you have [the two wearers] lined up, then you can see the full image. It’s almost like a banner in its own right.”

Binuya recently moved to New York to attend the Parsons School of Design at the New School. The Arc Artist Fellowship grant will help them build up their art supplies in New York, since most of their screenprinting and other materials were left in Seattle, and enable them to focus on upcoming works. You can follow Binuya’s work through their website and Instagram

Monyee Chau is a queer, Taiwainese and Chinese American artist. “I was raised in a family Chinese restaurant on Fourth and Jackson in Chinatown. That’s really shaped my identity,” Chau said. Exploring the historical and political reasons for Chinatowns all over the world is one theme of their work. “What I’m interested in is preserving those histories and telling what my story is from my perspective and doing a lot of healing for myself.” 

A graduate of Cornish College of the Arts, Chau explored printmaking and sculpture in school, but their current focus during the pandemic has been digital illustration, political graphics, and propaganda. Last year, in response to a white supremacist group posting racist stickers and harassing residents in the Chinatown-International District, Chau created Resiliency posters to uplift the community. “I wanted to create a talisman for protection … All of the symbols on the poster are supposed to represent some sort of protection … While resiliency is a really complex subject over why there shouldn’t be those barriers in the first place or oppressive systems in the first place, I still want to remember our history.” 

A local printer printed about 700 Resiliency posters, and “everyone came together,” to post them around the CID, using wheatpaste, packing tape, and staple guns. When Chau made the posters available for anyone to download online, they spread to other Chinatowns, Filipinotowns, Little Saigons, and other Asian communities, including those in New York and Canada.

Chau plans on using the grant to further support their research on Chinatowns, reflecting what they learn through art. You can catch Chau’s artwork on display throughout this month (until April 18) at Bellevue Arts Museum and at the Wing Luke Museum. Stay current with Chau’s works through their website and Instagram

Another Arc Fellow is Saiyana Suzumura, who creates visual art and designs clothing with the goal to liberate and empower community. “As someone with a mixed cultural background, my art takes the versatile aspects of myself to display the Vision I have within,” Suzumura said. “My art is a treasure hunt of my identity. My art gives me the opportunity to bring my different cultures together on a physical surface.”

Saiyana Suzuma's artwork: a pair of black denim jeans painted with a design of Japanese kitsune masks and oni faces.
Arc Artist Fellow Saiyana Suzumura creates visual art and designs clothes like these jeans. “My art is a treasure hunt of my identity. My art gives me the opportunity to bring my different cultures together on a physical surface,” Suzumura said. (Photo: Saiyana Suzumura)

With the Arc Fellowship grant, Suzumura wants to launch a fashion line as well as explore other mediums. “What I want people to see from my art is the multidimensional beauty of Black people. To feel the necessity of Black existence for the continuous creation of art and life,” Suzumura said. 

Follow Suzumura at @yana.mura on Instagram. 

A little about the other fellows: 

Kayla Stokes is the host of Bias Bender, a podcast “examining stories of Black women from the past and present in order to imagine the future” that she launched last August. “I love having the opportunity to research historical figures and connect with women from all walks of life to gather knowledge about what it means to be a Black woman navigating this world,” Stokes said. 

Stokes said the grant was an important affirmation of her work and will be put towards investing in equipment upgrades, paying stipends to contributors, and other expenses. Find out more about the podcast at @biasbender on Instagram, and tune in on any major streaming platform. 

Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, Mikhail Calliste received a BFA in dance from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Calliste joined Spectrum Dance Theater in 2018. 

Joyee Runninghawk is a mixed-media creator who honors her Black and Native roots through storytelling, photography, graphic design, clothing design, and paint techniques. Runninghawk is a star alum of Creative Justice.

Keep an eye out for more from these young artists, and watch for their upcoming artist profile pages on the 4Culture website.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. He often writes about specialty coffee, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Instagram at @markthewriter

Featured Image: Courtesy of 4Culture.

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