Like a painting’s first sketch, we are all born with a set of immutable guidelines, known to the human body as genes. When I was in elementary school, I genuinely believed that the left side of my body was Caucasian and the right Chinese. It made sense before, if my father is one ethnicity and my mother another, I must be the perfectly balanced result of them, fifty-fifty.
But an art piece’s initial sketch rarely stays the same, as external factors often come into play. Spending each summer in Beijing with my mother’s side of the family made me realize two things. One, my brother and I will always stand out in China, whether that means unique privileges or secret snapshots in the subway, that extra special attention will remain as long as the vast majority of their population is native. And two, I didn't like feeling different. I wanted to feel just as close to my grandfather as any of my other cousins were, no matter our physical differences.
As I grew up in the US, a country known as a melting pot, it never really felt like all the ingredients were cooked evenly. Never a mention about my white side but always persisting questions about Chinese culture with a hidden smile, masking their mockery with curiosity. Subtle, but nevertheless always there. And just like that, my outside influences have shifted my composition, the arrangement of my identity.
Regardless, the paint eventually makes its way to the canvas, and the colors fight each other for attention. My Chinese side and my white side are seemingly opposite, like photo realism and nonrepresentational art, directly contradicting each other. In China, I am considered loud and unlady-like. I know this because people will tell me and make sure I know if I gained too much weight or laughed too loud. On the contrary, in the US, phrases like “be wild” and “be intimidating” are ones that lead me out of my childhood.
I was not sure which one I fit into. Should I have met both standards in the middle? Switch back and forth until my head is dizzy? I often felt like I was being forced to mix water and oil into one homogenous mixture.
But, even the direct contradiction of photorealism and nonrepresentationalism can be used together. Like a photo depicting a grouping of seemingly familiar objects, on a deeper inspection, you can’t really recognize any of them. Art was what made me learn the truth about my identity, through its process and problem solving and said “rules”. I am allowed to be influenced by others. Some say that every single piece of art you will ever produce is inspired by everything else you have ever seen. But I am also free to look away from everyone and create my own path. There are no instruction pamphlets to tell me how I must live my life, no equation where I can plug in the different factors that can predetermine my future for me. As a matter of fact, I think rules defeat the very purpose of art.
I do have different cultural and ethnic backgrounds but they do not define me. So while I am physically made from two separate, completely different mediums, each with their own social expectations and history, I am my own person, and I am mixed media.