Asian Artist Brenda Chi Draws Chinatown in a New Light

Maya Miller, Contributing Writer

Chinatown is composed of peeling red paint and neon signs tinted yellow by age. The thick aroma of cooked duck spills onto the streets among baskets of dried medicinal plants and rain-worn stone statues. A short woman shuffles past paper menus huddled in alleyways and stuffed dogs standing guard on windowsills, sketchbook tucked under her arm, eyes scanning her surroundings behind wide-rimmed glasses. She pauses, snaps a photo of one of the many buildings whose dotage is drowned in brightly-colored paint, and moves on.

Later, with her viridescent hair stuffed under a beanie and a half-empty cup of boba perched precariously on her desk, she’ll sketch the photograph into a vignette for those who can’t see Chinatown in-person. She’ll sign it, Brenda Chi, so everyone knows where to look when they need a reminder of the beauty of Asian culture. “That’s where the art [comes] in,” she said in her interview with Los Angeles Magazine. “It’s a means of encouraging people . . . to explore [Chinatown].” Through the works she submitted in the art group Warrior Painters Plein Airpril, she depicts the intricate details of the town that suggest relatable and culturally significant aesthetics, hoping to bring a sense of home to people who struggle through the Asian hate crimes riddling the country.

In addition to these outside attacks, Brenda Chi addresses the opposition Asian-Americans can feel within themselves. She grew up in LA as the daughter of two ethnic Chinese parents, resulting in an inner conflict between American and Chinese culture. Her artwork often portrays Asian culture in the colorful, commercial style often seen in American cartoons, aiming not only to uniquely, relatably represent Asian culture, but also reassure people like her that celebrating that culture while also identifying as American is okay. “We’re all ‘American enough’ and ‘Asian enough’,” she tells Shoutout LA. “It is our time to celebrate who we are.”