Panel: “Exploring Cultural Roots through the Arts”

By Sarah Hedges-Chou, 2014 NATWA II Convention scholarship recipient

The final panel of the 26th Annual NATWA Convention in New Orleans was NATWA II’s “Exploring Cultural Roots through the Arts”. With organizers looking to host a diverse panel that would engage both older and younger generations, the discussion invited three Taiwanese-American women working in the arts to discuss their professional and personal journeys. The talented group of speakers included independent filmmaker, educator, and writer Anita Chang, author Julie Wu, and independent filmmaker, background artist, illustrator, and animator Hedy Yudaw. NATWA II intern Kristina Lin moderated the panel, spurring important discussions around careers in the arts, as well as the role of Taiwanese identity in shaping the work of these three artists.

Many of us were lucky enough to see Anita Chang’s most recent documentary “Tongues of Heaven” at an earlier screening at the NATWA convention. Examining the loss of indigenous languages in Taiwan and language revitalization efforts in Hawai’i, Chang’s documentary shines a light on the experiences of young indigenous women and investigates the links between language, identity and culture. Through this hard-hitting film, the question of “what do you lose when you lose your native language?” is explored.

Julie Wu’s 2013 novel “The Third Son” is a gripping work of historical fiction following disadvantaged third son, Saburo, as he navigates his way through life and love within Taiwan’s changing socio-political landscape. Starting in 1943, the story starts with the Chinese Nationalist Army take-over of the island following the Japanese occupation. Protagonist Saburo, trying to escape his oppressive family and the turbulent political environment in Taiwan during this period, seeks a new life in the United States. Mirroring the experiences of many Taiwanese immigrants to North America, Wu’s novel is at once exciting, heartbreaking, educational, and relatable for many NATWA members. Importantly, Wu’s novel also colorfully relates this unique experience of migration to descendants of Taiwanese immigrants.

A member of the Truku Tribe in Taiwan, Hedy Yudaw studied character animation at the California Institute of the Arts and received her Masters of Fine Arts in animation from the UCLA School of Film and Theatre. Working in a variety of mediums, Yudaw uses her art to give voice to marginalized peoples and to represent indigenous art forms. Her many credits include her award winning thesis, Voice, and animation work on the hit television series Community. Yudaw’s versatility and artistry were exemplified in the short but powerful clip of her work screened at the NATWA panel.

Coming from very different fields, all three artists drew upon commonalities between their experiences as Taiwanese women working in the arts in North America. They spoke to issues of sexism and racism within the arts, especially in terms of funding challenges and working in fields that are often dominated by men. As Taiwanese women, the three speakers agreed that there is some added pressure, as well as an important opportunity, to represent the Taiwanese community. Instead of shirking away from this responsibility, Chang, Wu, and Yudaw rise to the challenge, successfully using their art forms to convey the history, the diverse geography, culture and politics of Taiwanese people in their respective works. Through their use of documentary film, historical fiction and animation, Taiwanese stories, voices and art forms become more widely accessible.

Citing their different journeys into careers in the arts, the panelists agreed that family and community support played a pivotal role in their careers. Chang and Wu both began their education in more “practical” areas of study, with Julie Wu even becoming a medical doctor before recognizing her calling as a writer. The artists encouraged the audience to follow their passions and not be afraid to move beyond traditional roles and career paths. However, paraphrasing Anita Chang, a decision to follow ones passion is not always a choice, it is necessity.

The panel closed with the work of another talented Taiwanese-American artist, writer/director Karen Lin. We had the privilege to screen her highly entertaining new web series “Hungry Monster” (www.hungrymonstershow.com), which showcases Taiwanese street food. The three episodes focused on stinky tofu, batsang, and boba tea, and reveals how these foods are made in creative and fun ways that aim to share Taiwanese food culture with a wider audience.

As demonstrated by the impressive group of artists on this panel, there is no shortage of talent amongst Taiwanese-American and Taiwanese-Canadian women in the arts. With support from NATWA as well as the wider Taiwanese community, these artists have the potential to raise awareness and appreciation for Taiwanese cultural heritage in all of its nuance and diversity. Thank you to the talented Anita Chang, Julie Wu, Hedy Yudaw, and Karen Lin for sharing their art with us at the NATWA II panel; you have engaged a new generation of Taiwanese-American and Taiwanese-Canadian women.

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