Project HonorDigital illustration on textile | 2022
Originally displayed in various landmarks across the Bay Area in 2021, Victo Ngai’s hand-illustrated portraits were a glowing, inspiring contrast to their urban surroundings. The complete artwork comprises of 55 pieces that can be shown individually, or will form a large-scale mural if shown in its entirety. Conceived by Maria Lee and with the support of GS&P and GoFundMe, Ngai’s monumental artwork celebrates the joy and accomplishments of the AAPI community found in everyday moments.
“Project Honor” is inspired by Sandra Oh’s Golden Globe award acceptance speech. The idea is to show a community of AAPI members being unapologetically proud and happy for who they are. The portraits are based on photos of my friends and family and that of the GSP creative team. The process of creating these portraits feels quite intimate. Though I am not acquainted with most of the subjects, I feel a deep connection with them after studying every curvature, line, and scar on their faces. I may not know the individuals, but I know their joy. The grinning mom at the graduation can easily be my mom, and the dad gleefully holding his newborn can well be my husband. And I hope the viewers will feel the same.
The artwork is composed mainly of yellows and browns, and this is to take back the narrative of racial slurs which have derogated and vilified our skin colors. Not one of the background yellows or browns is of the same hue, just as every AAPI member is unique. Gold is also an important color for this piece as it’s a much loved and revered element across many Asian cultures. A Chinese proverb about solidarity inspires the lettering: “It’s easy to break one chopstick, but they become unbreakable when put together.”
The windows that house these portraits are located at the heart of SF Chinatown. They once saw Chinese Americans locked up as scapegoats for the 1900s bubonic plague. A century and more later, AAPI members are still being attacked and blamed for COVID-19. I hope it won’t take another century until we can look out our windows with no more fear or sorrow, only pride, and joy.
WishesDigital Illustration | 2021
The artworks selected here are part of a larger series of two-page spreads created for the children’s book Wishes (Orchard Books, 2021) written by Muon Thi Van. Since its publication, the book has received numerous recognition including the 2022 Margaret Wise Brown Prize Winner and the 2022 California Book Awards Winner, Juvenile Category. We encourage you to read the pages of Wishes for a more contextual experience.
Muon’s simple manuscript moved me immediately the first time I read it. There are only 75 words in total yet a substantial amount of story and emotion are packed in between the lines. I am reminded of the 6-word fiction often attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The restraint and omission make the story all the more powerful and inspired my illustrative approach.
The narration told through inanimate objects especially affected me. The passivity amplifies the little choices individuals have in times of great change and turmoil. The third person perspective speaks to the universality of wishing for hope in a sea of helplessness, relatable to anyone who has to leave their home in search for a better life. This is why we decided to include an image on the outer case featuring not only our protagonist, but also refugees from other spaces and times.
As an artist working on this book, the biggest challenge for me is to also exercise restraint, to translate the emotions as honestly as I can, without the bright colors, elaborate compositions, or other stylizations and embellishments behind which one can hide many insecurities. Instead, I have observed the way afternoon sunlight dances across my apartment walls, softening the edges of objects—not unlike the hazy and fleeting feeling of a memory itself. I have also revisited old photos from my childhood, and borrowed some of the cracks, dents, and peeling paints from my grandmother’s house as I want to glorify these imperfections since they are what give tactility and temperature to the idea of home.
Forbes 30 Under (Art and Style) honoree and Society of Illustrators New York Gold Medalist Victo Ngai 倪傳婧 is a Los Angeles based illustrator from Hong Kong, graduated from Rhode Island School of Design. "Victo" is not a boy nor a typo, but a nickname derived from Victoria - a leftover from the British colonization.
Victo provides illustrations for newspaper and magazines such as the New York Times and the New Yorker; create storyboards and art for animations with studios like NBC and Dreamworks ; makes books for publishers such as Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Folio Society and Macmillan; and works on packaging and advertising campaigns for Apple, Johnnie Walker, American Express, Lufthansa Airline and General Electric.
Victo has also taught at the School of Visual Art New York, the Illustration Academy and gives guest lectures and workshops at universities and conferences; this has become her favorite excuse to visit different cities.
Apart from drawing, Victo's biggest passions are traveling and eating. She's hoping that one day she will save up enough to travel around the world and sample all kinds of cuisines.