Toronto-based Alicia Chen is more than an artist and curator. She’s also a facilitator who strives to make connections between people from diverse backgrounds.
This passion has led her to collaborate with a wide variety of institutions, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, and Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery, among others.
At TAIWANfest Toronto (August 25 to 27) and Vancouver TAIWANfest (September 2 to 4), Chen will be one of four artists commissioned to create self-portraits. It will be part of the It’s Me and Wǒ exhibition. During the festival, this will be on display in the Brigantine Room at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto and the 700 block of Granville Street in Vancouver.
To learn more about what motivates Chen, read her interview below with Pancouver.
Artist crosses societal and racial boundaries
Pancouver: What led you to want to become a professional artist?
Alicia Chen: Engaging in profound collaboration, I’ve connected across societal and racial boundaries, broadening my perspective globally. As a recent immigrant, initial communication struggles didn’t deter me from amplifying Taiwan’s voice through creativity.
To overcome language barriers, I turned to visual art as a means of expression. This creative approach enabled me to convey Taiwan’s essence effectively.
This journey underscores the role of collaboration and creative expression in our lives. From overcoming communication hurdles to resonating globally, it highlights the human spirit’s adaptability and capacity to connect beyond words.
Pancouver: How would you describe your artistic practice?
Alicia Chen: Once, artists were the vanguards of social change. Today, influencers hold sway in advocating for societal issues. As my artwork delves into social, political, and environmental spheres, I prioritize industry collaborations and community engagement over canvas time. Facilitating hands-on advocacy, fostering talented peers, and nurturing the creative community matter most.
A recent highlight was contributing an illustration to the Washington Post, supporting Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHA [World Health Assembly]—an achievement alongside the Taiwanese American Federation of Northern California.
Transit art promotes diversity and unity
Pancouver: What feeling or message were you trying to convey with your work for the Toronto Transit Commission?
Alicia Chen: “Diversity and Unity” was the concept of this public art. I’m truly honoured to have played a role in observing the rapid policy shifts and transformative journey that continues to unfold.
Pancouver: What would you like readers to know about your self-portrait for TAIWANfest in Toronto and Vancouver?
Alicia Chen: I aspire for the artwork to encourage introspection and inner dialogue among viewers. It’s designed to grant them the freedom to interpret it in their own unique ways.
Pancouver: You’re also a curator. What’s your underlying philosophy or approach when you’re doing this work?
Alicia Chen: I’ve always wanted to provide visibility and opportunities for emerging talent, having experienced initial struggles myself. Creating platforms for other creatives to be discovered and nurtured is a passion of mine.
Pancouver: What have been the biggest highlights of your artistic career?
Alicia Chen: Engaging in this dialogue with you, Charlie. I value the instances when connections lead to curiosity, fostering friendships with Taiwan. It’s heartening when individuals take the initiative to showcase this beautiful place and its welcoming inhabitants. I tend to concentrate on my ongoing tasks and plans, so I don’t often dwell on personal accomplishments.
Supporting Canadian and Taiwanese women
Pancouver: You’ve been a supporter of President Tsai Ing-wen in the past. And your art features lots of confident women. Is there any connection between your appreciation of a successful female political leader, like President Tsai, and your art?
Alicia Chen: My upbringing was surrounded with women who had to forsake their aspirations and voices. They longed for the chance to pursue careers and education. Women form the bedrock of both Canada and Taiwan. Witnessing the advancements of Canadian and Taiwanese women on a global scale and offering support to fellow women achievers has been a healing process, addressing the scars of my childhood.
Pancouver: Where do you see your artistic career going from here?
Alicia Chen: As a multi-hyphenate, my painting styles and forms continuously evolve with my engagement. The rapidly changing world holds unforeseen opportunities, and my optimism is fueled by the potential that lies ahead. Embracing a fulfilling life, engaging in my passions, and upholding responsibilities is, in itself, a masterpiece. Ha!
TAIWANfest Toronto runs from August 25 to 27 at Harbourfront Centre. Its visual arts programs are at South Lawn, North Orchard, and Brigantine Patio.
Vancouver TAIWANfest takes place at various locations in downtown Vancouver from September 2 to 4. The visual arts programs are in the 700 block of Granville Street. All events at TAIWANfest are free.