Sarah Ng: Destroying Stereotypes Thru Art + Awareness
Sarah Ng: Destroying Stereotypes Thru Art + Awareness
So to start off, how did you discover/develop your love for art?
Sarah Ng: Initially I was not artistic at all; my main form of expression was through fashion. It wasn’t really fashion, I just dressed very strangely and took it upon myself to make myself super different from everyone else at school. I was just like “Oooh, I’m gonna be a fashion designer”, because you know, you’re a kid and you think you can do whatever the fuck you want.
Basically when I was in the sixth grade, I began researching FIT and thought that I was going to be a fashion designer. I was looking into going to Parsons, and it was then that I decided that I couldn’t go to a regular college. I was so bad at art; I knew that I was going to go to an art school, but I hadn’t ever practiced any art form at all. It wasn’t until I got to SCAD that I really started to develop my skills. My portfolio was originally a bunch of really shitty sketches that I did, they’re awful, they’re very childish looking. I’m so embarrassed by them now. Yeah, I’ve literally learned everything I know about art in the past three years.
Do you attribute your development as an artist to SCAD, or did it happen naturally?
I think it’s something that just naturally happened. I don’t really want to be like, “Oh, SCAD shaped me into the artist I am”, because no, it didn’t. I feel like it would’ve happened regardless, I just think I had a lot more resources when I got here. Growing up, I came from a relatively poor family, so we never had much. I lived in this super country town that hated the arts, so I never had any resources, any outlets- other than dressing weird. Coming here and being able to have the Adobe Creative program changed my life. I could learn Photoshop and all of this stuff, and I was able to explore different mediums.
What made you decide to pursue film rather than fashion?
So literally a quarter before I came here, I was planning on doing fashion design. I would sew a lot- I have a sewing machine over there, and I’m really, really bad at it because I’m a very impatient person. I could never do fashion design. I was actually supposed to go to SAIC in Chicago, but my mom, at the very last minute, got really stressed out. She was like, “You can’t go to Chicago by yourself- go to SCAD, it’s in Georgia”, because I’m from North Carolina, so it’s close by. I really did not want to come here.
When I started filling out what classes I wanted to take, I was like, “Why am I going to spend all of this money to take classes in something that I already know, and am not necessarily super passionate about?” My backup plan was to go into fashion marketing, but I already had internships with fashion magazines in high school. I already had the skill set at 16 years old, I didn’t need to pay $60,000 for that. I didn’t know anything about cameras, but I knew I liked film, and I loved TV shows- I was like a fucking SuperWhoLock-ian, and thought I was going to make the next Sherlock Holmes. I went into film because I just wanted to learn how to use all of the equipment, and how sets worked; it was so elusive to me.
Do you have any specific career goals/aspirations for the future? What sort of films do you want to produce?
I’m most interested in music videos because I like how sound works with imagery. I like how working on beats is so effective when you watch it, it just makes you feel something. It doesn’t necessarily have a narrative that makes you cry or whatever, it’s just something that you feel in your body.
What sort of things inspire you?
Honestly, one of my biggest inspirations is OKGO. I wasn’t colorful at all, until I got to SCAD- partially because that was when I just started to get into OKGO, because my sister dragged me to one of their concerts. I had listened to them, obviously, and I’ve seen their music videos, but when I went there my whole perspective on life, and colors, and art just completely changed. OKGO is definitely the reason for my love of colors, none of this *gestures to bedroom decor* would exist without that. It’s become such a crucial part in my art- that’s what people recognize me for, is all the colors. So like, OKGO.
Other than that, it’s pretty basic. I love Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein- that artwork is beautiful. I mean, pop art, it’s fun to look at.
I like how working on beats is so effective when you watch it, it just makes you feel something. It doesn’t necessarily have a narrative that makes you cry or whatever, it’s just something that you feel in your body
As someone who is an outspoken young artist, what role do politics play in your art?
First off, I just want to say that I’m the founder of the Women’s Empowerment Club at SCAD, so that’s pretty dope. Obviously feminism is incorporated a lot, I feel especially strong about issues like race. I like to tackle issues that have to do with Asian American stereotypes, because that’s not seen often in media. I did a series of imagery that are based off of ancient oriental ads, with these beautiful, Chinese women, combined with aspects of more modern images. I also write poetry about what it’s like to be an Asian American woman in America, and how people don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. Generally, stereotypes with Asian American women are “good”- it’s a stereotype, so it’s not actually good- but it’s less rude, and more along the lines of “I really like you, you’re exotic” or “You’re Asian, so you must be really smart”. People think that it’s ok to say things like that. So I explore that, and how it’s bullshit.
Also, a lot of the work I do is just straight-up words against colorful backgrounds. I’ll write poetry about these issues, about how they affect both me and other people. Even with the appeal about trans rights being taken away in the military, I just made an American flag and I just wrote “Protect Trans Americans.” I don’t have that big of a platform, but just putting that out there, it has to help someone.
Do you feel like it’s harder to be a successful Asian American artist in today’s culture?
Growing up, when everyone would be like “Oh you look like this actor” I would always get Lucy Liu or Brenda Song, because those are the only two actresses who were asian that people could think of. Being an Asian American artist is only successful for people who are super into K-pop or J-pop, or anyone obsessed with that very otaku (anime) culture. So in mainstream America, it’s unthinkable to see a successful Asian American artist.
What sort of stereotypes have you dealt with/how do you navigate that?
I don’t get picked for modeling because people are like, “Oh, she’s a good model”, I get picked constantly because I have an unconventional, exotic look. I’m still trying to break out of all of those stereotypes; people don’t see it and they don’t think about it- but it’s there. Regardless of if they say it or not, there’s these unspoken barriers that I have to get past, that other people don’t even realize they’re putting up.
What do you wish people could know about you?
I’m not an anomaly. People think- or guys think- that I’m like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or people think I’m very enigmatic- like “Oh, she’s too cool because she puts on this facade; no wonder she always looks like that.”
I’ve learned since coming to SCAD that a lot of people care a lot more about my image than I care about my image. So, yeah. I just want people to realize that I’m a person- not some weird, enigmatic figure. I’m the dorkiest person in the world, and I just make art because it makes me happy. Other artists have gotten me through so many hard times in my life, and I just want to make art that maybe
I’m the dorkiest person in the world, and I just make art because it makes me happy.
helps other people, or helps raise awareness on issues and stuff. I just want, I don’t know… I care, and I just want other people to see someone who cares.
If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I feel like anything that I would tell my younger self would be so cheesy, but my younger self was insanely angsty- she was very in her feelings. Honestly…. number one, it does get better. Number two, it’s gonna take time. Not everything is going to happen when you’re fourteen years old. I expected my whole life to fall into place… I was so traditionalist, and that’s completely fallen apart since I’ve been exposed to people and cultures, etc. But it takes time; surrounding yourself with the right people is very important. People who lift you up, and who encourage you to be more like yourself, as opposed to shutting you down and making you follow this one image. And taking risks, that’s a good thing. That always helps you find yourself, in my opinion.