“The first ‘uncute’ sculpture I made was a hand holding a bloody heart. After that, no one called my work cute anymore.”
We love an inspirational creative story as much as the next publication, possibly more, and so this note from local artist Mei Chen stuck out in our cluttered inbox:
“I’m a bipolar, bisexual, and bilingual artist in Dorchester. When I got fired from my first big girl job a year and a half ago, I did my own tour of Boston and cried at every landmark near Downtown Crossing. After eating my feelings, I brushed myself off and thought of my new plan. I would make accessible art. I think that the way that we think of art in society is in this crazy way that it has to be in museums filled with artists that aren’t diverse in places that diversity doesn’t flourish. I want my whole life to be filled with art, not just the kinds that cost millions of dollars in stark white galleries by artists that don’t understand me.”
Needless to say, we reached out with some questions about Mei Chen’s crafts. In recent months, sales of some of them have gone to causes including Native American Heritage Day and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women.
What’s with you and hands?
So obviously I get asked the hand question a lot! I am an artist that specializes in miniatures so I used to make tiny cakes and tiny flowers and whatnot and everyone kept calling my sculptures “cute” in kind of a patronizing way. They didn’t appreciate it as art. I told someone about this and all he said was, “So stop making cute things.” So I did. The first “uncute” sculpture I made was a hand holding a bloody heart. After that, no one called my work cute anymore. They called it art.
You’ve made more than 60 sales and developed a bit of a following. Are you part of a digital movement, so to speak?
Here’s the thing. Any good sculptor can make hands. There are plenty of sculptors that can make hands better than mine and I am aware of that.
In a world where we can see what crafts that people are doing everywhere, how unique are your hands?
My hands are unique because my hands made them. It’s the message behind them that makes them unique. It’s the fact that I am so unwaveringly myself that makes them special.
Which have been some of your favorite pieces so far?
My two favorites are my “Remember to Take Your Meds!” and “Hong Bao” pieces. When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had to come to terms with the fact that I would be taking medication for the rest of my life. My medication saved my life more than any amount of therapy and support ever could so I wanted to normalize taking them instead of demonizing myself for needing them.
My “Hong Bao” piece was really important to me because it’s a combination of both of my identities. During Chinese New Year, my family used to give out red envelopes filled with money called Hong Baos (literally means red envelope). My house was always filled with laughter and body heat but now I have a really strained relationship with my family and I felt really disconnected from my culture. It felt like my art was on my American side and my Chinese side was rotting away so I wanted to make a piece to bring those both together. I think that being honest with myself and being honest with the people who support me shows them that it’s okay to be themselves because my art reflects that.
How does this all connect with your overall mission?
I started “The Meitriarchy” (which is the name of my Etsy shop) last October and since then I’ve made over 60 sales and over 1,000 followers on Instagram without having any art background. I literally know no other artists so I had to build everything from the ground up and pave my own path.