May has been a month of recognition for the Asian American Pacific Islander community as it is a moment to reflect upon and celebrate heritage. During a time where anti-Asian sentiments have been running high, I want to highlight some of the contemporary AAPI artists, musicians, and dancers who are bursting with creativity, showcasing abilities, and making an impact upon their specialties within the arts. Obviously, there are thousands of AAPI creatives doing astounding work, but I only have time (and space) to explore a few.
[Note: all artwork and videos are property of the listed individual artists and musicians]
Aimee Thieu is a two- and three-dimensional artist, living in Southern California, who works with hand-cut and intricately layered paper. She juxtaposes geometric shapes with organic forms to represent the relationship between structure and fluidity. She draws her inspiration from the ocean, textures, architecture, the balance of space and light, and anomalies that she finds in nature.
Alex Aiono is a rising Samoan-Maori-American musician who initially showcased his music on YouTube. He began writing and recording music at the age of 15. He has explored a variety of hybrid genres, playing around with gospel, folksy, hip-hop, alternative, and pop styles. In 2020, this Pheonix-born, Los Angeles-based musician released his first independent album: The Gospel at 23. Aiono launched a podcast Let’s Get Into It, in 2020 with iHeart Radio. He also stars in Netflix’s Finding Ohana. Aiono’s career is just blooming and is someone to continue to follow.
Alex Wong is a well-known ballet dancer who has danced professionally with the American Ballet Theatre and the Miami City Ballet. Born in Canada, Wong has won awards around the world, however many people may best know him for his time on So You Think You Can Dance, where he snapped his Achilles tendon and had to withdraw from the competition. Despite this setback, two of his dances won Emmy Awards. Since then, Wong made a full recovery and has been making appearances all over the media in the United States as well as overseas. He danced on Ellen and American Idol, has been a guest speaker as universities like Yale and Dartmouth, performed on Broadway, and worked as a choreographer for a variety of projects from the Buick car launch in China to the Disneyworld Christmas Parade. He now teaches dance at the Broadway Dance Center in New York, in addition to performing at a variety of dance conventions and Hollywood films such as Crazy Rich Asians and The Greatest Showman.
Dwinisa is a self-described “artist, craftsperson and adventurer” who moved from Jakarta, Indonesia to New York City in 20210 to pursue the “American Dream”. She fell in love with handmade crafts and explores a variety of materials in her art including leather and metal. She had the opportunity to study under Barbara Shaum, a well-known sandal maker, in the East Village then moved on to learning more about handmade leather production. She is constantly exploring new crafts and had been taking jewelry making classes to expand her knowledge when the pandemic hit in 2020.
Khai Dreams is a half-Vietnamese singer from Los Angeles who is a talented lyricist. His lyrics are poetic and transformative, carrying the listener to a dreamlike world. Khai Dream's musical career began on Sound Cloud, where he now has over 58.2K followers. His musical genre falls between indie and R&B. He blends his mellow vocals with acoustic ukulele or guitar and often a lo-fi beat. He describes himself as his own spirit animal.
Linda Kuo is the co-founder, director, and choreographer of Dancers Unlimited. Kuo was born in Taiwon and raised in Hawai’i. She was greatly influenced by the cultural diversity of the arts around her, including the Hula. She pursued dancing and choreography as a career in New York City after attending Boston College. Her choreography focusses on addressing social and cultural issues with a strong emphasis on storytelling. Kuo co-founded Dancers Unlimited in 2009. Dancers Unlimited was created to offer free dance classes on “Furlough Fridays” when Hawai’i Public Schools were forced to close due to budget cuts. The company has grown since then, but has always remained rooted and focused on growing their community programs. Dancers Unlimited has presented work in festivals and showings in Hawai’i, New York City, and across Asia. The following dance was choreographed by Linda Kuo for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2021.
Low Leaf is a Filipino-American multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, and producer, who emerged in the Los Angeles underground beat scene in the late 2000s. She learned classical piano from childhood and taught herself how to play the harp and guitar as well as production skills. She chose the name “Low Leaf” to reflect the way that trees grow and the that we as beings on this planet are meant to evolve with it in a consciousness that is intertwined with and serves the community around us. The concept of evolution and nature ties in with how her musicality resonates. Her signature style is known to be very pure and seemingly unrestricted. She combines both organic and synthetic sounds in harmony. Low Leaf began releasing mini albums in 2011. Low Leaf also experiments in the visual arts and plays around with geometric patterns in her abstracted paintings.
Yuka Kameda began tap dancing at the age of 10 in Osaka Japan. She joined “Beis Crew” in 2004, a funk tap company, and performed throughout Japan. In 2005 Kameda moved to New York City and performed across the state at venues such as the Lincoln Center and the Aaron Davis Hall. Since then, Yuka has performed at the New York Tap Extravaganza, the Blue Note as a Solo dancer, and the Lincoln Center Spring Gala. She was also a member of Tapestry, the world’s only full-time professional tap dance company. She currently teaches tap at the Mark Morris Dance Center, Millennium Dance Company, and Youth Arts Academy.
This has been a month to focus on and celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage and recognize contemporary artists, but let’s not forget that support of the AAPI community does not end when June begins. Let the highlight carry over and continue supporting the community.
You can also easily virtually support any creatives (even if you don’t have funds to financially support by purchasing their work) by liking, sharing, and commenting on their material. Every thumbs-up counts.
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Sydney Davis-Campos is the Virtual Learning Coordinator at Able ARTS Work, Learn for Life. She has a B.A. in Studio Art and Art History. Sydney has worked at Able ARTS Work for almost 5 years where she has also held the positions of Art Instructor and an Assistant Program Manager.