In conversation: Alx N Ria
Joan Lee, who creates art under the name Alx N Ria, had a chat to us about growing up Asian in Australia, her new line of tees featuring Asian role models and how Dora the Explorer fuelled her artistic talent.
Hey Joan! Can you give us a brief insight into your cultural upbringing and how it has impacted your life so far?
At the age of four, I moved to Australia with my family from Singapore. At the time I didn't quite understand the immensity of the decision my parents had to make, leaving the only country they knew as home to raise my sister and I in Australia. I vividly remember being excited to hop on the plane when we were at the airport leaving for Australia and wondering why my parents looked so sad saying goodbye to their family.
My free-spirited mindset made it easy for me to make friends in primary school but this didn't come at complete ease. As a Singaporean kid growing up in Australia, I felt a deep sense of pressure to “blend-in”. I remember feeling bitter about my Asian heritage as the kids at school would unknowingly make small jokes about the flatness of my face, size of my eyes and how all Asians looked the same. Unintentionally, I formed a warped opinion that Australians were “cooler” and “more beautiful” than Asians. Through my childhood experience and cultural upbringing, 21-year-old Joan has learnt that being an Australian-born Singaporean is the coolest thing. Beauty cannot be defined by race and wanting to “blend-in” is the worst thing you can ever do to yourself, ever!
“As a Singaporean kid growing up in Australia, I felt a deep sense of pressure to “blend-in”
When did you realise your passion for art and creating?
I would say watching ‘Dora the Explorer’ and ‘Blues Clues’ when I was five. As a highly curious and creative kid, these two shows were my ultimate obsession. I remember wanting to own exactly what Dora owned, a map, a talking purple backpack and a monkey named Boots! Not knowing how to purchase any of these things, I would create each of the items from scratch out of the cartridge paper. Watching Dora as a kid taught me about my curiosity, that being adventurous was a good thing and that I loved to make/sculpt. Watching Blues Clues taught me about research through sketching.
Throughout high school and university, I caught myself procrastinating hardcore from doing the traditional assignments I was given. Instead of revising for my history test which was the next day, I would be stuck at rehearsals for an upcoming musical theatre production, practising/teaching yoga, at art class or aimlessly sketching in various notebooks with my assignment staring me down.
How has your cultural upbringing impacted and influenced your artwork and creative process?
Being an Australian-born Singaporean, I always look for a way to incorporate both Eastern and Western cultures into my artwork whether it be an influential figure or an iconic colour/technique of painting. I hope to explore this more within my future projects.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
In regards to the technical and business side of art, I draw inspiration from various creatives. As a former architecture student, I tend to crush over creatives who are influenced by the form, the future and the environment around them. One of my favourite artists at the moment is Daniel Arsham; his work is incredibly aesthetic and mind-blowing.
In terms of the business side of art, I am inspired by artists like Andy Warhol and Takashi Murakami who know how to market their art and turn a piece of paper into a mansion regardless of the technical difficulty. That’s probably why I use lots of pop-culture references and relatable words in my artwork.
Have you ever thought about using elements from your cultural heritage in your artwork?
I tend to go back and forth from wanting to create something meaningful that incorporates elements of my cultural heritage to creating something that’s just really aesthetically pleasing. However, in saying this, the base idea of all my larger projects are influenced by my cultural heritage and the experience of growing up as an Australian-born Asian. I strive to develop projects that reflect my identity and themes of belonging, stereotypes and powerlessness.
Earlier in the year, I dropped my first T-shirt collection called ‘MARMY’. The designs on each shirt are all originally drawn and hand-painted by me. I created the MARMY (My Asian Role Model Army) collection to recognise the rise of Asian representation in the western media and the beauty/challenge of growing up as an Asian in the west.
What do you hope to achieve with your art in future?
I hope that one day I can make a good living from creating my art because, as cliche, as it sounds, I feel that I was put on earth to make art and share art. I hope to have a team working with me to help make my art dreams a reality, creating things bigger than just drawings on paper I'm talking large installations that are immersive and have the strength to spark conversation and influence a better world to live in.