At ICAV, we strive to elevate adoptee artists as their works can often portray what words struggle to convey. Consistent with this, at the recent 9 September K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night, Ra Chapman and myself wanted the evening to be a celebration of Australian intercountry adoptee artists. We were able to present some of their work in a printout as a ZINE which you can view here:
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Other Adoptee Artists
We’ve had some other incredible intercountry adoptee artists present their works at ICAV over the years. Here is a compilation of what has been shared. Click on the image and it will take you to their blog with artworks.
Meg is a Korean intercountry adoptee, raised in Australia and a comic artist. She makes largely autobiographical and non-fiction work that has appeared in The Nib, The Lily, Liminal Magazine, The Comics Journal and anthologies including Comic Sans,Steady Diet, Threads That Connect Us and the Eisner award-winning Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment and Survival. She has exhibited comic, animation and film work internationally, taught comic making to university students, developed and delivered comics programs to high school-aged students from migrant and refugee backgrounds with STARTTS, and art programs to elementary-aged students in Korea. Meg is currently working on a long-form work based on her experiences as the Asian child of white parents in Australia, a recent period of living in Korea, and a failed search for her Korean mother.
She created the artwork for our K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night promotional material and ZINE:
Meg also presented as one of our adoptee artists and you can watch the video of her presentation here:
by Roxas-Chua, adopted from the Philippines to the USA; author, artist.
For many adopted people adoption is traumatic. I’m not as linear in my story-sharing because I can’t stay very long in breathing that atmosphere. I choose writing, calligraphy, and art to work on my story. Because I didn’t have a good birth, I’d like the chance to have a good death. I’m on a path rebuilding from severed shapes and invisible pieces. It’s a path where you build from your own found illuminations. It’s a place where I am an infant, a boy, and a man happening all at the same time. Writing and making art are not easy although it make look like it is. Here are truths told in two abstractions, two bruises when my senses project a location of pain inside the body. There’s no need to challenge the stories of adopted or infant-abandoned people when it doesn’t fit feel-good narratives of society and media. I ask that you listen, see, and sit with me when I open my body to you.
by Roxas-Chua, adopted from the Philippines to the USA; author, artist.
I thought I’d share this image that sits on my desktop table in my studio. I created it one of those nights when I wasn’t able to tap into shift and movement in my adoption struggle. I find that a balance of story-sharing, self-parenting work, contemplative writing and drawing has helped me in navigating and translating the world around me. In this drawing, I was accompanied by the moon, which in way gave me comfort the way nature does. I hope you enjoy it. It’s a snapshot of tenderness that we seek from ourselves and from others. If the moon can be my birthmother now, I’m alright with that. I’ll take any path that lights up the night.
by JS Lee, adopted from South Korea to the USA, author and artist.
When I was in Korea in 2006, I traveled to Daegu to see the hospital grounds where I was supposedly found abandoned. Wandering aimlessly, I hoped for something to feel familiar, despite how decades had passed. This painting was inspired by the photo I took on my trip.
While painting my infant self there sounds pretty sad, it felt amazing—almost as if I’d traveled back in time to tell her she was now in my safe hands.
You can follow more of JS Lee’s works at her website.
This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.
by Kyleigh Elisa, adopted from Colombia to the USA.
I am angry for sure. I feel like my anger ebbs and flows. Like, some days I’m just ready to burst and others, it’s a slow burn deep down.
When I was first given permission to be angry about my adoption about a decade ago by a therapist, it was like a volcano that erupted inside of me and I couldn’t stop it for months. Back then it was more about always feeling unacceptable. Feeling like I hated how I was different in a sea of white people. That no-one close ever really acknowledged the pain inside me due to adoption. That I was made to feel like I was en exotic commodity, while also being told, “No, you’re just like us. You’re just our Kyleigh”. I feel like that was some kind of unintentional gaslighting trying to make me feel accepted, but it had the opposite effect.
Since then I let my anger out more regularly and I don’t drink to dull the pain like I used to. I am definitely still angry though and I hate being adopted. I hate colonialism. I hate white supremacy. I hate the patriarchy. I am afraid of religious organizations that allow people to justify it all. I believe all these things contribute to why we are all adopted.
I just start thinking about it all and the anger billows. It’s a thought path I have to force myself to interrupt because it does not help me. While I think it’s good to be aware that stuff exists, I also cannot allow it to deteriorate my mental health. So I research and try to give back to our community and participate in adoptee organizations – this reminds me that I’m not alone.
Remembering I’m not alone helps a lot. Taking gradual steps to reclaim pieces of my culture that were taken from me helps too. It’s scary while I try to get back what was lost, and that’s upsetting at times, but in the end I reap the rewards accepting each little piece back to me, as it’s mine to rightfully hold.
This year I will turn fifty. During seven years and four months of those fifty years, I have looked at adoption from another perspective than I did during my first forty-two years and here is something that I have spent the first hours of 2022 thinking.
When criticizing adoption, you often get to hear people contradicting you referring to other adoptees who do not share your critical view. “I have a friend who is adopted and she is just perfectly happy and thankful”. Well, so?
Another thing that often strikes me is that when it comes to adoption, being older and more experienced does not render you more respect. I don’t know how many times I have seen adult adoptees being pushed back by adoptive parents claiming that their ten-year-old adopted child has never experienced racism or felt rootless, etc..
For years, I was pro-adoption and I even participated in an adoption agency’s information (propaganda) meetings for prospective adoptive parents and social workers. I was never ever questioned and never asked to show statistics of other scientific sources to back up my claims. I was adopted then and I am just as adopted now. However, my words then were never subject for doubt whereas what I say today is always subject of scrutiny and quite often dismissed as sentimental BS. As opposed to what was truly sentimental BS…
Back then, I had not read any reports or seen any documentaries about adoption. I had hardly talked to other adoptees other than my sibling and the other adoptees on the panels at the adoption agency’s meetings. Sure, today one could accuse me for being a bit categorical, but why wasn’t I accused of that previously? And why are the words from my soon to be fifty-year-old self less trustworthy than those from my thirty-year-old self, or my fifteen-year-old self for that matter…
This is not only about trauma. For me, it is about political/ideological statements, it is about insights about privilege and colonial/patriarchal structures, of which I know far more today than I did ten years ago, let alone as a child.
I think it has to do with the way adoption is framed and cast. We, the adoptees are eternally children and as such equals to each other but not equals with adoptive parents, not even when you are decades older than the adoptive parent you are debating. Therefore, in the context of the adoption debate, I hate being labelled “adoptive child” and I don’t like having to refer to people who adopt as adoptive parents. In this context, I would prefer it if we were adoptees and adopters, but since I know what battles to pick, I do respect group rules in adoption forums. However, I do believe that language matters. Words paint pictures and these pictures affect the way a conversation is held.
by Dan R Moen, adopted from the Philippines to the USA.
Part three of this series focuses on toxicity and its impact with grief. The black vine-like shapes represent toxicity and how it manifests itself within and around all of us. It’s depicted as an uncontrollable beast and has completely engulfed an individual. It grows and flourishes when grief isn’t addressed, resources for healing aren’t in place or utilised, and when one feels like giving up. The vine-like creature wraps itself around the other gentleman and is trying to pull him down along with the other person. He is desperately trying to grab the hanging fruit, representing hope. Loosely inspired by the mythology of Tantalus, he is just out of reach of the fruit, but the toxicity is pulling him away. Intertwined in the vines is various stressors that give the vine-like creature it’s power. Phrases like Covid-19, Trump, gun violence, Biden, divorce, and other phrases fuel this creature – and when not dealt with, allows for it to become stronger.
In the left, the arm is representing suicide; depicting how all these stressors can manifest itself into the toxicity of the vine-like creature and how it now has grown barbs. Wrapping itself around the arm of the gentleman, it cuts deep and creates unearthly pain. The blood drips and fuels the stressors on the ground, once again igniting the cycle and power of the vine-like creature.
In November 2021, I was asked by the Australian Department of Social Services, to source artwork by intercountry adoptees that would fit with their artwork brief for a literature review they funded reviewing the research available on Adoption and Suicide.
ICAV approached various adoptee artists known for their work by ICAV and requested if they wished to submit any pieces. Dan, a Filipino adoptee in the USA, had only weeks before just joined the ICAV network and I had seen his artwork as part of getting to know him. His artwork blew me away with its depth and intensity. So I’ve asked him to share it with you all here. Artwork is such a powerful medium to portray the adoptee lived experience! I hope you enjoy the next 3 blogs whereby we share you Dan’s incredible talent, his artwork and the meaning behind each piece.He presents to you his 3 part series, all related to being a Filipino intercountry adoptee.
by Dan R Moen, adopted from the Philippines to the USA.
This represents both my present and my past simultaneously going through emotional turmoil. The child is suggested to be naked in representation of being completely vulnerable. With both arms surrounding the adult form of themselves, the child desires nothing more than to be loved, protected, and to not feel orphaned—a real sense of belonging.
The adult, however, represents my current adult self. The old world/Victorian/Edwardian clothing represents a connection to history; the love for studying and learning from our ancestors and a passion for those who came before, and yet, completely ignoring the child in the present. The red vest represents love but is covered and not revealed by the partially closed frock coat. He is looking away from the child suggesting that there’s a disconnect. He is looking in towards the darkness knowing that the world isn’t all shiny and glorious. He too is also grieving but not fully connecting to the child. One arm is wrapped around the child suggesting there is some small connection to his past self, but the other hand is completely in the pocket suggesting that there’s a sense of standoffishness, including cognitive dissonance—needing to grow up and to move on. He is displaying the inner turmoil of accepting the idea of “that’s just life” – while simultaneously, not granting himself permission to fully mourn with the past child.
Surrounding them, there are different colors suggesting fire of meanings. The dark greens represent the forests that I visited throughout 2020 and all the secret spots that I like to go to for healing. Many of these locations were off the nature trails, and for one to visit them, they would have to trek deep into the woods to find these locations.
The red represents the blood of those who have died at the hands of bad policies, politics, racism, ignorance, and to Covid-19. As does the white, which represents the countless spirits and souls who have passed onto the next world.
The yellow represents the fire with chaos and change. There are hints of gold metallic paint suggesting the idea that there is healing within the chaos, but it depends on individuals’ perspectives. This is represented physically by the viewer as the angle that you’re looking at the painting determines the visibility of the metallic paint. So, when multiple people look at the painting at the same time, some will see the metallic paint while some will not see it, that’s the point.
Many of us, as adults, sometimes forget that the raw emotions we feel, are human, just human. No logic is needed in the moment of grief. Many of our fears, woes, and deep inner turmoil come from our past, and sometimes, we mourn our childhood – as we haven’t given ourselves permission to fully grieve and feel these raw emotions. We must give ourselves that permission; any advice from others or opinions from others will not be fulfilled if we don’t allow ourselves to feel first and validate how feel internally.
You matter too. You are #1 in life; from birth to the next world – learn to live with yourself, not by yourself.
Coming next, Dan’s 2nd art work piece Does My Perspective Matter? in his 3 part series.
To find out more about Dan and and his work, check out his website.
by Jonas Haid, adopted from South Korea to Germany.
Everyone is talking about work life balance.
What about mental balance?
When I finished my B.A. in fashion design I realized that doing artwork and being creative is my favourite tool to take myself out of this world. At the same time I understood that creativity can’t be a part of my future career. Here are the reasons why:
1. I need inspiration to be creative. 2. If I’m in the creative process there is no alternative, if someone criticises my artwork, I take it personal. 3. If there is too much pressure, there is no way to produce an acceptable result. If the result isn’t perfect, I’m not satisfied as an artist
So, right now I’m earning my money as director of online marketing in a big agency. I protect my creativeness to relax and take my mind into other dimensions. So, I love working with data and building digital strategies, and I still think it’s important to love your job, but it’s also important to protect your personal needs and hobbies.
This special artwork is inspired by ICAV (InterCountry Adoptee Voices), a platform for intercountry adoptees to tell the world about their story. Thank you Lynelle Long for investing your time to start this amazing organisation to help other adoptees around the world heal their souls.
The butterflies at not just random, I tried to find some from Korea, China, Vietnam and Indonesia which are also found in Europe and the rest of the world. These represent the various countries that many of ICAVs members were born in.
My message with my artwork for fellow adoptees:
Be strong, be real, be yourself. No matter how much we’re craving for all the love we missed. The old chapter is already written. So take a deep breath an cheer up your confidence because there are so many chances. Just be open minded, inspired and warmed up from the love of your choice, start the first stroke of your own personal story. You are one of a kind.