#WCIW: Brenda Chi
Asian-American Artist. Brilliant Illustrator. Overall Badass.
The child of Chinese immigrants and artist, Brenda Chi grew up in the 90s. As a child she was obsessed with cartoons and pop culture, spending hours watching shows and studying the style of animation and the characters. She loved strong, female characters like Helga Pataki, Patty Mayonaise, and Daria. But she also noticed an unfortunate trend of strong girls in nearly all of these shows were overwhelmingly white. If Asian girls and women were portrayed at all, it was as the sidekick, the best friend, often imbued with stereotypical traits.
That realization prompted Chi to study art and culture in general, and what she found was startling: Asian women were rarely found at all in art and culture, and when they were it was soft and meek, shyly subservient, and often sexualized or even fetishized. Brenda was appalled, and became determined to shatter that stereotype.
Chi grew up in Alhambra, California, a town where 52% of the population is Asian or Asian-American. As a child and teenager she struggled to find her place in the world. She realized early on that “American” kids saw her as Asian, and her Chinese friends and family saw her as “American-Chinese”; in other words, not Chinese enough.
She worked to balance her Chinese cultural heritage with following her American dream of becoming an artist despite her parents' fear for her financial security in such a career. But Chi was determined, and began sketching images of strong, independent women, especially Asian women, honing her skills as the years ticked by.
After high school she attended the Art Center College of Design, majoring in Illustration, a move that her parents supported despite earlier misgivings, and before long moved into freelance art and illustration full time.
She also began to write and illustrate comics about Asian women doing things that weren’t stereotypical: Asian women sitting and drinking at bars, even (gasp!) turning down men hitting on them. The pieces came from Chi’s own experiences with men objectifying her through stereotypes, commenting that one of the most common pick-up lines that she hears at bars from American men is “Ni hao” (“Hello” in Chinese). They just assume that she is, 1. Chinese, and 2. can’t speak English or would find hearing the Chinese word for hello creative and entertaining.
Chi hopes her work will inspire other Asian-Americans to defy stereotypes and advance the conversation about the realities of Asian Americans. Despite seeing some progress on including minorities and people of color in television and movies, she knows there is still a long way to go before se see full representation in media.
To this day, American remakes of Asian movies and stories often cast white women as the leads, a faux pas that Chi often addresses in her work. And that work is not going unnoticed: she's been featured as Hello Giggles’ Illustrator of the Month, has been exhibited in multiple galleries and museums, and, most recently was featured at the Asian-American ComiCon in a graphic anthology inspired by the legendary George Takei in New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei.
At 25 years old, Chi is just really getting started in her career. However, with her humor, gumption, and talent, she’s sure to have a major impact on the art world and help change in thinking about Asian-American women.
For her role in the conversation, her brilliant illustrations, and overall badassery, Brenda Chi is this week’s #WCIW.