I had the chance to sit down and have a conversation with Lily Xie and Crystal Bi, Residence Lab artists and co-founders of Moon Eaters Collective about their perspectives as AAPI LGBTQ artists. Recognizing the lack of queer Asian representation in the media, Lily Xie and Crystal Bi-Wegner created the Moon Eaters Collective, a zine that centers Asian American femme art and AAPI queer experiences. Lily and Crystal both joined Residence Lab as community artists with the hopes of using art to activate and preserve spaces in Chinatown.
Lily Xie is an LGBQT+ illustrator and cartoonist who grew up in Chicago with immigrant Chinese parents. She began making art in order to release and visualize her inner thoughts and feelings. Through Residence Lab, Lily hopes to weave vulnerability and external-processing in her community work and empower Chinatown residents.
Selina Li: What is your family background like? What was it like growing up?
Lily Xie: “I am a second-generation immigrant. Both of my parents are immigrants from China who came to the US in the 80s after the Cultural Revolution. They settled in Chicago where I grew up and I’ve been in Boston for the past 10 years.”
SL: What is your preferred medium?
LX: “I work in illustration, book making, and print-making. Working with combinations of these three mediums feels very intuitive to me.”
“Crystal and I started the zine, “Moon Eaters Collective” in 2018. We wanted to bring together other people who were queer Asian artists like us and build a community. We wanted to do that by collecting people’s work and sharing that.”
SL: How did your family react when you told them that you were making art? Were they supportive?
CX: “I don’t really talk about my work with my parents. My mom knows that I do art and that I draw, but we don’t talk about the specifics. From their perspective, what I do seems like a very impractical thing, especially as immigrants where they had to work so hard to make a living—to get by. To do something where there is no guaranteed or stable income is very risky to them.”
SL: How has your generation impacted your lived experiences as an artist?
CX: “Things like being risk-averse, working really hard, being able to make a lot of sacrifices are values that I inherited from my family, who believes that these skills are what kept them alive--what was necessary for their survival. My parents were my first teachers, but as I’ve gotten older, more “teachers” have offered me different possibilities of living.
I think a lot about making my own choices and negotiating between upholding their values as a daughter and what is harmful or not helpful for me. As an artist who wants to remain curious, I think values like being risk-averse or fearful of change is damaging and inhibiting. It feels bad to dismiss these values entirely, but it also feels bad to hold on to them too tightly as well.”
SL: What inspired you to make art? Who inspired you?
CX: “I started making art by drawing and wanting to share with people. At the time, I had just gotten over a breakup, and felt very lonely. I had all this energy and things that I wanted to express, and I needed a way to get it out. Drawing to me is very meditative. It is a way to process and do self-healing. I started making illustrations and zines about that topic. My favorite part about doing this is that I liked being able to share my work, go to markets and talk to people, get their feedback and have conversations. I felt like this was a good way of expanding just beyond me.”
SL: You mentioned being able to externalize how you feel inside. What does that mean in the context of our society where people are often conditioned to feel certain emotions and not always able to truly express themselves? How does your work align with that?
CX: “I think my work directly opposes that feeling. We live in a space, especially if you are not male or if you are someone from a cultural or racial background, where you are taught to minimize yourself and to brush aside your reactions to things.
I hope others can feel like, “I saw this piece where someone was being very honest about themselves and giving validation and light to their process of feeling and that makes me believe that I have permission as well.”
I hope to tap into that feedback loop. As people feel more like they have permission to be true to themselves, the more they can go out and let other people know that this is ok and in turn, engage in mutually healing work.”
SL: What is one piece of advice that you have for an inspiring artist or someone who is fearful of doing art?
CX: “Be curious. I’ve been thinking about that a lot because I have been reading work by Adrienne Maree Brown. One of the things that she talks about is staying curious in your life, not just in art but also in relationships and love. We tend to be fearful of making mistakes and of not doing the right thing, but I think we can instead turn our attention to what makes us curious and what actions might be pleasurable or might invoke curiosity. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. You can just be curious about what happens when you are playful and do something some type of way. I am also trying to teach myself these things.”
SL: Why did you decide to be a part of Residence Lab?
CX: “Both Crystal and I were interested in being community artists whose work engages with and seeks to benefit the whole community. I think it was perfect to have this framework and structure provided by Pao and ACDC. Meeting residents has been wonderful and having a chance to practice community artwork was exactly what we were looking for.”
SL: How do you think that art can play a role in community organizing, activism, or changes in the community?
CX: “Art is being used to build coalitions and advance strategic goals or policy goals where you need people to buy in. It also operates in the realm of the heart. To get people to be in the movement with you, you must access their heart space and doing art is a good way to access that. It has also been useful for me as a tool of meditation and healing. I think art is healing work for a variety of reasons, among race, class, and gender. It can be a useful tool for bringing people together, because it is a low barrier of entry--you just need to find paper and grab a pencil.
Sometimes art can give legitimacy to an idea or a narrative that people would brush away if it was just through writing.”
SL: How would you want your work to impact the community?
CX: “I hope that the residents we work with in this program can feel empowered. I hope they feel that they have access to art-making in their tool box to improve their lives or even just for fun.
I hope that we [Moon Eaters Collective] can be successful at supporting ACDC. I know a big part of their vision is to be able to have ANCHOR areas where people understand that Chinatown is an important neighborhood and place to preserve. I hope that by activating spaces, we can build public interest and bring more curiosity. I also want for the residents to feel happy to live here.”
SL: What is the most rewarding part of Residence Lab?
CX: “So much of my work with Residence Lab so far has been rewarding. I've learned so much, not only from Jeena and Anju and other facilitators, but also from the residents—discussing their interests, concerns, and dreams.”
SL: What are your future aspirations as an artist? How would you like your art to grow?
CX: “I hope to become an artist that is more sensitive to the needs of people around me and to become more skilled at turning what people need and hope for into a form of art intervention. I also would love to continue doing work with the Chinatown community! My day job is doing stuff with data, so I would love to bridge those worlds together and bring technology into the art practice and vice versa.”
SL: Why is it important to address underrepresentation and to build accessibility through your work?
CX: “There are some unique experiences and challenges to being both queer and Asian American that we wanted to understand more of and have more of a framework for Moon Eaters. Crystal and I were really interested in seeing work from people who share these identities. Even more broadly, we didn’t really know what this means for us. We have a long-term hope to mobilize the community we are building to work towards justice and policy agendas as well. We hope that we can activate artists with organizers in the future.”
I would like to thank Lily for her wise words about channeling vulnerability and emotions in a creative way, for the time she took to talk to me about her experiences as an AAPI LGBTQ+ community artist, and for being a part of Residence Lab. Artists like Lily who use their skills to center Chinatown residents’ experiences and voices are extremely valuable members to Asian Community Development Corporation. Look out for Moon Eater’s Co-Founder Crystal Bi-Wegner’s interview piece in a few days!
Don’t forget to come join us August 23rd at the Hudson lot for Residence Lab Kick-off where we will be featuring the art that Chinatown residents and community artists, like Lily Xie collaborated on during their time in Residence Lab! The event will start 5:30pm and end at 7:30pm.