I am Oaklandish // 1 // Asia Eng, Visual Artist
Posted on September 1, 2011
I travel a lot.
This Wednesday and Thursday, in the course of 24 consecutive hours, I’ll breathe air in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That’s where I am now, gate C-54 at Pittsburgh International. I spent most of my day at TSA checkpoints, or curled up in an awkward tray table ball, or narrowly missing the closing doors of an airport tram. For a moment though, I did get outside, and I ventured to a part of Pittsburgh called Oakland. (Ah Ah Ahem. Sidenote. There, I stood on a street called Hodge in a part of town called Oakland– I don’t even know how to calculate the dorkitude emitted from my pores at that moment, but I digress).
Two thousand, five hundred and seventy three miles from Oakland, California, I beamed. I’m proud of my city, even when I am not actually in it, even if the closest I get to The Town is a gentle nod towards its moniker. (I headnod back at you, Ben Affleck heist film.)
I lived on the East Coast for a few years. Tell a New Yorker you’re from Cali, and they’ll assume, 8 times out of 10, that you’re from Los Angeles. I live in LA now. Tell the average Angeleno that you’re from up North, and they assume San Francisco. Oakland is constantly upstaged, asterisked and misunderstood. In my travels, I still field questions about the 1996 Ebonics debate; I talk about a hoop squad that is more than Latrell’s hands around someone’s neck; I remind that we are more than the riots that followed the Raiders’ loss at the 2003 Superbowl.
In short, Oakland is Proud because no one else will be proud for us. We exercise a rich cultural legacy, a policy of introspection and a knack for finding the next. The Town is a study in surprise, in artistic innovation, in movements foreign to the rest of the planet. We are the birthplace of leather jackets rocked with berets at free breakfast, where Skyline High School taught Tom Hanks to act, the original terminus for all Pullman Porter activity, where Walt Disney visited a theme park near a lake and began drafting ideas for Disneyland. Here, we make ideas that power the world. We do what no one else does, and we do it well.
During the month of September, Thickwitness will profile 30 innovators, groups or ideas that are native to Oakland and exemplify the spirit of this city. We’ll look at artists, educators, chefs, religious leaders, political agitators and scholars that would otherwise go unnoticed in the national eye. If you don’t live in Oakland, I invite you to see my city, perhaps for the first time, through the eyes of a local. If you’re newly transplanted, or just visiting, there’ll be stuff here to guide you to fun, interesting, or otherwise provoking activity. If you’re from here, this series is meant to honor you.
**510**And so we begin – with Oakland born visual artist: Asia Eng.**510**
I know I’ve been wordy, so I’ll keep today’s profile short, and let the artist’s work speak for itself. Asia Eng is originally from Oakland, California. I know this because she and I went to Montera Junior High School together. When it was still called Junior High. I remember Asia as fiercely intelligent, compassionate without pause, and constantly drawing, inking, or painting. She has an infectious smile and a hilarious father, but that is neither here, nor there. She’s highlighted today because her website just launched, and now visitors to the site are able to witness, up close and personal-like, the full throttle of her brilliance.
Asia is known up and down the Pacific Coast for her work as a live body paint artist, but has also done commercial work for everyone from Tom’s to Disney, all with an aesthetic that I consider uniquely Bay Area. That is to say, in the same way that Oakland is an amalgam of past traditions and innovation, of first generation and established families, her work straddles past and future. As you’ll see below, Asia works from a clear foundation in traditional Chinese aesthetics — perhaps influenced by Yuan and Ming Dynastic paintings, but there’s a palpable sense of East Bay gangster in her visual art, as well. See?
If that ain’t Oakland, I don’t know what is. And then this still photo of her work at the Blu Canvas Art Opening makes my heart unfurl a smidge. Seems that blue paint on black body by this particular artist is the quintessential Oakland experience.
Check out more of Asia’s work at: asiaengart.com. Here at Thickwit, we are pleased to honor her as an ambassador of Oakland’s art and culture. She is Oaklandish.
This blog is brought to you, in part, by local textile and cultural purveyors, Oaklandish. Oaklandish will be throwing a party on the 1st Friday in October at their new Downtown Oakland store. Everyone I profile is invited to attend as an honored guest and will receive a limited edition “I AM OAKLANDISH” t-shirt. In a city of roughly 500,000 residents, there’s no way I can cover everyone or everything, but I’ll do my best to rep a cross section of folks that reflect our city’s varied perspectives and populations. Also, it is important to note that none of the honorees know that they’re being highlighted until the blog post is up, because surprises are sometimes fun, cuzzo. This means that some folks profiled might not closely align themselves with Oaklandish — and that’s fine by me — I mean no ill intent, nor make any assumptions — just want to shout out some folks who make a real impact on the world, from this pearl of a city on the East Side of the Bay.