How Draw A Dot is Using Art to Spread Awareness on Anti-Asian Racism
In times of turmoil, society has often looked towards the world of art for inspiration, dialogue, and healing. Draw A Dot, a platform that showcases the magical world of fashion through the lens of illustration, is using its platform to spread awareness and #stopasianhate.
Toronto-based Marcus Kan created his fashion illustration site in 2013 as a way to forge bonds with those that shared a mutual love for fashion and artistic illustration. With a community over 80,000 strong (and growing), Kan has grown Draw A Dot into not only a destination for inspiration but also an artist agency and consulting firm, cementing gigs with leading brands like Apple, Valentino, and Versace (to name a few.) But most importantly, it offers a space for illustrators to express themselves, connect with each other, and have important conversations on topics that concern mental health and racial justice.
Today, that conversation focuses on the wave of anti-Asian racist rhetoric sweeping across the US and Canada. The latest initiative on Draw A Dot, #ShareYourAsianStory, uses creativity as a vessel to have deeper conversations about the Asian-North American experience. Below, Kan discusses the campaign, social impact, and how brands can do a better job of working with the Asian community.
Tell us about the #ShareYourAsianStory open call? What is it and what do you hope to achieve from it?
The #ShareYourAsianStory is a part of the #DrawADotTogether project, which aims to use artwork to raise awareness of some of the social issues people are experiencing right now. Before #ShareYourAsianStory, we had campaigns on Black Lives Matter and COVID-19.
The main goal of this project is for artists to use art to express their points of view or personal experiences. At the same time, we want the public to look at their artwork and understand the different social issues that exist in the world right now.
Why did you start this campaign?
I remember in mid-February, Sandra Hsu, one of the illustrators, contacted me and asked to meet with the organization Hate Is A Virus. After the Zoom meeting, I decided to create a new campaign for the #DrawADotTogether project and asked Sandra and [illustrators] Karen Koh and Beck Hong to join my brainstorming session. Through that, we came up with the name #ShareYourAsianStory for this portion of the project. This campaign has different categories that illustrators can participate in. They can illustrate their personal experience, share their Asian cultures, or even honour some of the Asian talents who have made an impact on the world. We also encourage non-Asians to participate as well because we are looking for allies of the Asian community.
What has the community response been like since you launched the campaign? What kind of momentum are you seeing?
My followers are always fighting for equality and other social justice issues so they were happy to support this campaign. I am so grateful that so many people have sent messages saying that they are working on their artwork so they can be part of this.
The campaign started to gain momentum when [fashion designer] Prabal Gurung and [actor] Jada Pinkett Smith uploaded one of the illustrations from the project to their Instagram feed. This was after six Asian women were killed in Atlanta, Georgia. After that, I saw a lot of people share that particular illustration on their social media platforms, and the project went viral.
After what happened in Atlanta, Georgia, I believe many people from the Asian community cannot stay quiet anymore, and this project is providing a space for them to voice their opinions and also heal their mental wounds. We will definitely be hearing more personal stories from the Asian community through this campaign.
You work with both fashion illustrators as well as some of the top luxury brands in the world. How have these brands and designers worked with you or responded to this campaign?
The brands that are backing me up on this project are all Asian-American brands. They have been reposting the illustrations on their accounts. Private Policy has done an Instagram live with me to talk about the Asian racism situation in New York City. Since I have only received a few illustrations featuring European brands I don’t have a definite answer on whether they are willing to take the same action as their Asian-American counterparts.
How has this campaign led to starting larger conversations around racism and equality in the Asian community?
As of right now, I have had people in the Asian community come forward and share their personal stories using their artwork. Some of the stories I have read are heartbreaking and I know many people in the Asian community can relate to them. I know a lot of them have repressed memories and couldn’t find a way to express their feelings until they found this project. We cannot solve the racism and equality problem in one day but at least this project is helping the Asian community to speak up and let the world know what kind of treatment the community wants from others.
Much of the luxury audience is made up of Asian clientele, and yet there have been many instances of racism and prejudice from the brands that rely on this segment so much. In your experience, what do you think is a productive way for brands to work with the Asian community and deploy Asian-centered campaigns? What have brands done wrong in the past and what have they done right?
In my opinion, I believe brands should hire Asian cultural specialists to educate their teams. Employees need to understand cultural appropriation and what kind of things they cannot use on their designs.
Also, if brands want to create special collections such as Lunar New Year collections to cater to Asian customers, I strongly suggest they do their research. They should create a meaningful collection than just changing releasing products in red colours. It sometimes makes me wonder if brands actually appreciate Asian culture, or if they create these collections just because their competitors are doing it.
On the other hand, I appreciate that some brands hire Chinese calligraphers to be at their stores and create Fai Chun for their customers during Lunar New Year. This gives a chance for the customers to learn more about the Chinese culture. We need brands to do more in-store activations like this.
Which designers and fashion leaders have been leading the conversation in the current #StopAsianHate dialogue?
Prabal Gurung, Phillip Lim, Joseph Altuzarra, Siying Qu and Haoran Li from Private Policy, and Eva Chen are some of the people in the fashion world who are active in the current #StopAsianHate dialogue. On the other hand, I have not seen a lot of Asian designers based in Asia speak out about this issue. Perhaps this is something we all need to explore and understand why they are staying quiet.
How do you think art is a vessel for social change?
I strongly believe art can help push any social movement forward. When people start to see the [art] show up over and over again on social media platforms, then better understand that there is a social issue the world needs to face. This gives them a chance to educate themselves.
Also, people use art to record history. From my understanding, a lot of people do not know how to express their political point of view through words, so they decide to use different art forms to express their opinions. In 10 years when we look at all the illustrations from this campaign again, we will be able to understand what has changed for the Asian community.