Celebrating AAPI Artists in the Bay Area

Callie Fausey

Staff Writer

Following the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the past year, Asian American community advocates in San Francisco are now imploring city officials to increase public safety measures and provide services to victims of anti-Asian violence. Bay Area AAPI artists, in alliance with these advocacy efforts, use their work to celebrate their heritage, inspire change, and tell their stories through unique perspectives and mediums. The Foghorn spoke with a few of the Bay Area’s local AAPI creators to learn more about their work and what inspires them. 

Erina C. Alejo 

PHOTO COURTESY OF EVELYN MARÍA ANDERSON

Erina Alejo is a Filipino-American lens-based artist, researcher, and educator who constructs archives on labor, displacement, family, and communal history. Their photography and other artistic works incorporate care, community action, and themes of cultural preservation to highlight their experience as a third-generation renter in San Francisco. Alejo recently published their first photo book, “A Hxstory of Renting,” and is a public art finalist for Balay Kreative’s Kapwa’s art contest, a Filipino American Cultural Center, in the Excelsior. The SF Museum of Modern Art commissioned their body of work titled, “My Ancestors Followed Me Here,” which explores the textures, cultural landmarks, objects, and people along San Francisco’s vibrant Mission Street before, and during, the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more about Alejo and explore their work on their website, erinacalejo.com

Through your art and the projects you work on, what kinds of stories are you trying to tell? 

Erina Alejo: Instead of telling, I’m simply learning how to create spaces and platforms for community voices. Similar to what I discuss in my interview for KQED’s Rightnowish, my collaboration-based process is the art itself. I accumulate a lot of archives, lenses, and narratives about one topic and experiment with different media: renting, public spaces, plants, ancestors. Overall, my art is informed by the interconnected struggle of class differences, especially through my identity as a third-generation Filipino-American renter in my birthplace, San Francisco.

What projects have you been working on recently? 

EA: My SFMOMA commission, “My Ancestors Followed Me Here,” recently opened at the museum, gratefully sharing space with art by fellow Bay Area artist, Adrian L. Burrell. For my project, I worked with artists Vida Kuang and Lourdes Figueroa to get to know essential workers and muralists along Mission Street. 

Anh of Yan Yan Beauty Salon cutting artist and collaborator Vida Kuang’s hair., From Alejo’s SFMOMA series “My Ancestors Followed Me Here.” PHOTO COURTESY OF ERINA ALEJO

Can you speak about the goals and experience of working on ‘A Hxstory of Renting?’ How have projects like this impacted you?

EA: “A Hxstory of Renting” is meant to humanize the impact of gentrification and displacement, especially from the lens of community resilience. These projects teach me about the importance of cultural humility, and cultural asset mapping as a place-keeping strategy to value what and who are already present in our lives. 

A Hxstory of Renting (San Francisco: clamshell press, Brighton, United Kingdom: Katalog Projects, 2020).

Who, or what, are your main sources of inspiration?

EA: As a guest and settler on Ramaytush Ohlone Land, I think of the wisdom of my ancestors and our indigenous communities, especially when approaching cultural preservation, and anti-displacement organizing. I also remain inspired by the generations of youth and families who teach us about hope, love, and how to gracefully carry within ourselves the complexity of community. 

In collaboration with the South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), Alejo is currently working on the multi-form project “Amoy Tayong Araw! We Smell Like Sunshine!” part of Sowing Agency and the United States of Asian America Festival 2021, to explore the importance of green spaces in anti-displacement organizing. 


Karina Tran  

Through your work as a photographer, what kinds of stories are you trying to tell? 

PHOTO COURTESY OF KARINA TRAN

Karina Tran is a 21-year-old Vietnamese-American creative, raised in Los Angeles and currently studying at USF. She specializes in capturing portraits and works to establish meaningful connections with everyone involved in her creative process. She lives in San Francisco with her partner and her dog, and is capturing life every day, which you can catch a glimpse of on her Instagram and TikTok (@transpectrum).

Karina Tran: I work mostly on trying to capture the essence of who people are. I think people are beautiful, especially as you get to know them. Photography is still, and therefore telling a story with photos might not be the same as other modes of art, but being able to show people’s inner selves through my lens really brings out the authenticity of my photographs. 

A headshot of Tiana Blanco by Tran. PHOTO COURTESY OF KARINA TRAN

How does your identity influence your work? 

KT: I think my identity does influence my work. I don’t think about it much in direct correlation, but it’s through my past experiences as a queer, Asian American woman, that has molded me into the person I am today. I grew up in a really traditional Asian household, where art was not taken seriously, and vulnerability was frowned upon. So these components of who I am, the eldest daughter in an immigrant Asian family and a queer woman from the South Bay of Los Angeles, have only driven my desire to succeed so that I can be the person that I needed when I was younger. It took me a very long time to really think about my identity, and now that it’s constantly in my mind, I try to take every action to be mindful of the impact I have in what I do and the things I say.

What projects have you been working on recently?

KT: Because the pandemic made portrait photography very difficult, I actually took this recent year to explore other modes of art that fascinate me. I started designing and producing hoodies and crewnecks for the people I care about and the people that care about my work. It really helped me better connect to the people who want to support me but didn’t really want a photoshoot. I’ve been photographing more with my girlfriend, too. Expressing that side of my life, my relationship, also better connects me to my community.

Tran holds up sweatshirts she designed during the pandemic. PHOTO COURTESY OF TIANA BLANCO

Do you use your photography for activism? 

KT: It is a crucial part of my brand to voice the things that I believe in and to never remain complacent in the things I have the power to make a difference in. I am currently working with a friend of mine who is doing his own passion project where he gives voice to Asian American women affected by the recent AAPI hate crimes in the U.S., and I am excited to share that when he finishes. 

In reference to her future, Tran said “I want to continue to create content, nurture more meaningful relationships with the people who support me, and start my own business that will foster creativity and better our world through actions big and small. I’ve got big dreams and I’m determined to make them more than just that.”


Lauren Andrei Garcia 

PHOTO COURTESY OF LAUREN ANDREI GARCIA

Lauren Andrei Garcia is a Bay Area actor, teacher, and visual artist born to a viraginous Filipina woman and a green-thumbed Mexican man. She is a part of the comedy groups Las Hociconxs and Granny Cart Gangstas, as well as a contributor to the El Comalito Collective art gallery. Her recent work includes the performance “Feel the Spirit” for the Shotgun Players in Berkeley, and visual art at El Comalito Collective’s Ser Muxer Exhibit. She recently co-wrote the first Filipinx slayer into the official Buffy the Vampire Slayer canon for Boom! Studios. 

What messages would you like your art to convey? 

Lauren Garcia: I want my stories, perspectives, language, and the art I produce to challenge current oppressive narratives in order to lead to structural and policy change and to reimagine a freer future for us to inhabit.

Can you speak about your visual arts projects, like “Unlearning My American Education,” and what inspired you to create them? 

LG: My visual art projects and installations are usually iterations of experimental double exposure manually captured on film. I also experiment with how light and shadows play on photo paper. The layers speak to the dualities and multiplicities of a person, through my lens of being Mexican, Indigenous, and Filipinx, as well as queer-identifying. The light and shadows speak to the aggressions I’ve experienced throughout life. “Unlearning My American Education” was something I explored a while back when I realized I took out a lot of student loans, but my real education involved listening to my communities, the stories passed down from previous generations, and developing my own intuition and confidence in myself. I was reflecting on how much value I put on American institutional education and how I was challenging that within myself. 

 A print photograph from Garcia’s collection “Unlearning My American Education.” PHOTO COURTESY OF LAUREN ANDREI GARCIA

Who, or what, are your main sources of inspiration? 

LG: There are so many. I am a sensitive person so many things inspire me. Today, it is the cast and crew that I’m working with for “Feel The Spirit” and also the way the light looked hitting the trees in the morning, it was kind of an orangey-yellow. 
Garcia’s first full-length play was commissioned to premiere in Fall 2021 and her one womxn show “Kilig Girl: A Prologue” is set to premiere in May 2021. You can learn more about Garcia and her work on her website, laurenandrei.com.

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