Photo of Chelsea working in her college studio in 2014
It’s December and time for a new Cultural Work Roundup! The Roundup is an interview of a local BIPOC cultural worker and the things they’ve been taking in and putting out into the world. APANO recognizes that solidarity is an integral part of cultural change, that our society is built on the disproportionate exploitation and oppression of Black and Indigenous people, and that Pacific Islander communities have been marginalized in the work of Asian/Asian American visibility. So, the Roundup prioritizes emerging Black, Indigenous, and Pasifika artists, as well as emerging Asian/Asian American and POC artists who are doing solidarity work through a BIPOC/intersectional lens. This month, I got the pleasure to interview: Chelsea Wilkinson – the artist behind HELLSEA, foster dog parent, and Universal Basic Income activist! Read on to learn more about her art, how it intersects with the fight for economic justice, and what she’s been taking in.
What’s your name and pronouns?
My name is Chelsea Wilkinson and I use she/her pronouns.
Where do you call home?
My home is in the Montavilla neighborhood in PDX. I’m very much a homebody and a nester, with my two chihuahuas, my partner, and the menagerie of plants and fish tanks that I nurture.
What does “cultural work” mean to you? How does your art fit within it?
Cultural work to me is the collection of work that comes from expressing our individual identity. Cultural work connects with people that can really inform an inspiring, exciting, and moving way of connection…and sometimes it starts a necessary conversation. It’s work being created from this entirely personal place of the maker’s being and I think how we define ‘culture’ is a really broad subject! All of our lives have so many different influences from our family, our environment, our history, and all of the people we interact with who shape us. All these influences have really broadened how I think about what culture is. My art fits in that context in that I think of myself as just one person that’s contributing to such a broad body of expression. My art is always a continuing exploration of my expression, and it can be quite vulnerable for me to share myself, my experience, and my perspective with the world knowing it exists with viewers in this greater context. My art practice involves a lot of different mediums. When and why I’m using a certain medium is usually informed by the moment and what I’m trying to manifest. When I oil paint, I’m very focused on color, composition, and creating a mood about a feeling or a place. When I’m working with mediums that allow me to use finer detail like ink, drawing, and watercolors I tend to make art that has subjects and patterns in it. If I work in 3D mediums like ceramics, or jewelry I’m thinking a lot about the home and creating art that I find visually appealing and see as decor. I’ve always jumped around mediums and just follow my visions (my motto!). I’m most energized by my process when I’m indulging my muses rather than following how the world is responding to my work.
What does solidarity look like to you? How does it show up in your art?
Solidarity to me is about living everyday with the understanding that my life is never just about me. When I understand more about intentional systemic harm happening to my community in aspects of racial, gender, and class injustice and that this harm has been happening so much longer than I’ve even been alive for, it shows me just how imperative it is for us to be intentional in combating it and to help each other. Solidarity is always asking me, what can I as an individual do to make a positive difference for others and myself. What we do to show solidarity must also be done with a quality of humbleness because it’s to be of service for your greater community when it needs you. In my art, solidarity can show up in exercising ways to elevate any privilege I have in the movement or by being brave to share my story if it’s something that I’ve been personally impacted by. When I have an opportunity to use my skills as an artist to raise awareness about an issue that’s important to me and I know it can amplify an important cause, that is when I feel most impactful as an artist showing solidarity.
The piece above, ‘holding space for leng’, was a work I created in March of 2021, as a contribution to the Stop Asian Hate movement. That time was incredibly emotional for me, and I felt like I was grieving the realization that the moment the movement was having was what it took to make me want to express real solidarity for my Asian community and own a sense of pride for my identity. Leng is my middle name that belongs to my grandmother.
What’s your dream, vision, schemings of a liberated future, new world, etc.? How does your art connect to it?
My dream is a future of abundance. A future where my community has the capacity, the safety, and the real opportunity to thrive beyond scarcity. My dream is for all of us to be in a place where we aren’t just all trying to survive, but can actually live our lives and thrive together. I think being able to afford your basic needs continually is a critical solution to how communities begin to truly thrive. That dream connects to my scheming for a basic income for everyone while I am in solidarity for so many other intersectional fights for human rights like healthcare and a living wage. Having a basic income that brings the power of cash into these conversations is so important. Universal Basic income says, ‘you’re getting this money with no strings attached because we know you know best what your needs are to survive’ is really radical and pushes back on a lot of paternalistic notions that many current institutions get stuck on.
The Basic Income Movement is in a really critical moment right now as we have over 100 different guaranteed income pilots happening across the country, and I want to give a shoutout to Brown Hope that’s doing one! Many saw the power that direct cash has after the stimulus checks and the expansion of the Child Tax Credit, and continuing to spread awareness and educate communities about basic income is the heart of what I do. We won’t get the government to implement a basic income for everyone unless we demand it. I work at Income Movement, a non-profit that’s been doing amazing work to bring the movement together and coordinate nationwide actions. We’ve currently been deep in supporting the many pilots that are going on, and also mobilizing action to pressure Congress to reinstate the Child Tax Credit expansion and make that permanent. I recently became the Interim President of USBIG that’s held an annual basic income conference for over 20 years. We’re currently working on our five year plan. I’m hoping to find ways to engage with youth and I’d love to one day hand this torch over to the next generation!
Having come from an upper middle class family and being the daughter of an immigrant from Malaysia, the intersections of race and class has impacted my life a lot. My art connects to this vision just from the fact that I am an artist. I’ve experienced and seen how much the pressures of capitalism hurts the creativity in all of our souls because we can only survive by making money. I think a lot about how we balance surviving and being true to our creative calling and feeling purpose and value.
What have you been getting involved with or practicing that brings you closer to your solidarity work (like groups, meditation, learning circles, etc.)?
I recently became an art assistant for a local artist, Midori Hirose, who is doing a community bell making workshop to connect the history of Japanese-owned orchards here in my neighborhood. That’s been a really wonderful experience supporting a local artist and also connecting more with the history of the Jade District. I have social anxiety, and so I don’t often attend events or things that require a lot of social engagement. Supporting her project has been a nice way for me to be in creative community environments!
What have you been watching that’s been inspiring you and/or informing your vision (from your social media feed, movies, TV shows, any other media)?
Anything on social media that’s speaking truth to how much working sucks gives me life. I love when people say they just want to snack, be cozy, and spend time with friends. I think seeing people push against the grind and hustle of capitalism inspires me and validates my own feelings. Seeing others experience joy, and seeing folks fight for that joy. This post from Morgan Harper Nichols, “It’s okay if productivity looks different from now on’ really moved me, as well as this sentence she wrote “Being able to rest without worrying about your survival is a privilege that should actually be a right.”
What have you been listening to that’s been giving you life (podcast recommendations, a song or album that gets you out of bed, etc.)?
I have been really tied to my playlist on Spotify ‘somewhere you exist’ where I curate all of the songs that move me the most and is sorta my life soundtrack. “Fall in Love With You” by Montell Fish is so romantic, soft, and the lyrics ‘We’re not perfect with love But maybe I could be worth it, love’ is a kind of vulnerable truth about love that I connect with so much. His falsetto is so delicate and sweet. Then there’s “Flower Girl” by Kinokoteikoku, which is my theme song. It starts off slow and then towards the end has this incredible shift. The song constantly repeating “Flower Girl” makes me feel like it’s this audible affirmation to my aesthetic. I play it while I drive or when I’m hours into working on an art piece. Lastly, I have to mention “Green Arrow” by Yo La Tengo because it’s my mental health jam. I really went through addressing and managing my anxiety and burnout, and this song was something I’d put on to soothe me. I think it speaks to the pace, the stillness, and rest that society should value. I play it on repeat when I’m struggling to find my peace. When I’m not listening to music, I tune into OPB. Hearing local and national news and their amazing programs helps me stay rooted to what’s happening in politics, culture, and beyond. I actually teared up in the car the other day when I heard the Brazilian President-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, say, “There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon.”
What’s the last thing you read that moved you (articles, books, poetry, whatever)?
Year of the Tiger by Alice Wong. Alice is an incredible disability activist, and the way she wrote her memoir is authentic, creative, and candid. It’s hard for me to find the time to read, but when I heard she was writing a memoir I knew I had to pick it up. She is so powerful, funny, and genuine. She’s an inspiration to how I should be approaching my activist work and how I want to think about my place in this world. Outside of rare times that I sit with a book, like many of us, I’m on Instagram searching for connection and recently read a post on Instagram that read, “when a creative dies an entire universe is lost forever”…and I loved that.
How do we get connected to your art and/or work?
You can follow me on Instagram @iamhellsea and see my work on my website hellsea-art.com.
let’s grow something new
Be our next featured artist or nominate an artist you know! If you would like to be featured in a future Cultural Work Roundup or would like to nominate someone, let me know by telling me a bit about yourself or the artist you know. The Roundup prioritizes emerging Black, Indigenous, and Pasifika artists, as well as emerging Asian/Asian American and POC artists who are doing solidarity work through a BIPOC/intersectional lens. The interview can be done over coffee, Zoom, or email! You can contact me by:
- Emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- DMing @amppdx on Instagram
- Filling out this Google Form
We’re also sharing local offerings, events, etc. from community members in the Roundup. Send your opportunities to Grace by the 20th of each month!
When: Sundays, Dec 11-March 12, 11am-1pm
Location: various QT/BIPOC owned businesses around PDX
Registration: email email@example.com
AMP members Lilly Do and Kelly Novahom are starting a weekly free writing/co-working group and will be supporting queer owned and BIPOC businesses around town. It will be a great opportunity to meet others and also get to know your local QT/BIPOC cafe owners!
Optimal Health Clinic Holiday Specials
We are a new Asian-American-owned clinic that is expanding our services led by Asian-American practitioners. We offer chiropractic, acupuncture, functional nutrition, massage, meditation coaching, EFT, and energy healing. With the holidays around the corner, it’s a great time to incorporate self-care into your daily routine. We are offering the following specials: Free infrared sauna session for detoxing (first session only), 20% off your first functional nutrition therapy visit to get your body on track for the new year, and 10% off your first massage to help you relax during these times. We’re also offering happy hour massages on Wednesdays, 4 pm – 6 pm: $20 for 15 minutes. Check out optimalpdx.com for more information!
This programming message brought to you by APANO Communities United Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.