Mel Taing is a Cambodian-American photographer based in Boston. Her artistic practice is centered on the act of archiving and documenting the here and now through creative portraiture. Mel aims to capture the vibrance, radiance and joy that her subjects share with her through color and subverting traditional styles of portraiture. As a child of Cambodian refugees, she is deeply interested in resilience in community. Mel’s artistic practice is healing in action - honoring QTDBIPOC+ folx by creating spaces for them to play, witness, and become their truest selves. Resilience does not always need to center the pain experienced but rather the ways in which we overcome adversity and choose to seek joy.
Mel seeks to continue weaving an ever-expanding net of travelers, thinkers, and makers in the hopes of transforming the arts and culture sector in the pursuit of cultural equityCommon themes in her work are centered on food and identity, decolonizing traditional portraiture, and utilizing vibrant, surreal color spaces to tell stories that have been forgotten in our collective historical memory and create new narratives for marginalized folx to be in their fullness.
Mel is currently an Artist in Community Fellow at Arts Connect International and the Co-Chair of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Alumni Leadership Council. Mel is also the Project Coordinator for Comida Casera Project, a multi-generational traveling event that centers on food, storytelling and what it means to have a sense of home. In her freelance practice, Mel is an exhibition and event photographer for art museums such as ICA Boston, deCordova Sculpture and Park Museum, MIT List, and the Rose Art Museum.
Website: www.meltaing.com | www.asiancdc.org/avoyce
Arist StatementAs a photographer, my artistic practice is essentially centered on the act of archiving and documenting the here and now through creative portraiture. I aim to capture the vibrance, radiance and joy that my subjects share with me through color and subverting traditional styles of portraiture. As a child of Cambodian refugees, I am deeply interested in resilience in community. Capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy continue to fracture our society, leaving us siloed and unable to heal. Eventually, this trauma is passed on to future generations. Resilience, the act of overcoming adversity, is not something that happens in isolation. It happens in community - in the collaborative weavings across race, class and gender. My artistic practice is healing in action - honoring QTDBIPOC+ folx by creating spaces for them to play, witness, and become their truest selves. Resilience does not always need to center the pain experienced but rather the ways in which we overcome adversity and choose to seek joy.
When my parents left Cambodia for the last time against a backdrop of bombing and ensuing genocide, most of the family photos were lost. To this day, I still don’t know what my paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins looked like. I have a personal ancestor shrine at home, and instead replaced what would have been their photos with objects of meaning. I think this deep loss in not having the images of my family ancestors has led me to become a person who delights in taking portraiture for my subjects to keep, cherish and hold for future generations.
Cocreating new, shared visions that become a mirror for my subjects to witness themselves has created a library and map for all the communities I am honored to touch and be a part of. As I move forward in my practice, I seek to continue weaving this ever-expanding net of travelers, thinkers, and makers in the hopes of transforming the arts and culture sector in the pursuit of cultural equity.
Common themes in my work are centered on food and identity, decolonizing traditional portraiture, and utilizing vibrant, surreal color spaces to tell stories that have been forgotten in our collective historical memory and create new narratives for marginalized folx to be in their fullness.
Project Description:A-VOYCE (Asian Voices of Organized Youth for Community Empowerment) is a leadership youth program for high school students run by Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) to center youth voices in Boston Chinatown community development. Through the facilitation of weekly workshops with me, the youth will go from an inward exploration of their cultural identity to ultimately designing and creating a project that addresses a need in the Chinatown community. Youth-created and youth-led, I hope to use my artist skills to become a mirror in which we work together to design, create, and execute an arts project in a public space.
This year the youth cohort will be activating Hudson Street Stoop, a small patch of greenspace between two affordable housing units where community programming and art installation often takes place. The site is also across from Parcel R-1 which is currently going through development proposals for a permanent Chinatown public library branch. Because of the youth-led nature of the program, the current path of the arts project is expected to evolve and change over time.
Some examples of projects done by youth cohorts in the past include activations to bring art and greenspaces to Chinatown such as murals, garden beds, and pop-up play spaces. I see an amazing opportunity to bring the narrative back to the citizens within Chinatown and the stories they may tell.
As a photographer and archivist, I hope to co-create with the A-VOYCE youth a public art exhibition of portraiture created by them that represents the joy, vivacity and resilience of the Chinatown community. Using the beautiful, historical architecture and environment of Chinatown as our backdrop, the youth and I will be able to play into our relationships with the food of our cultures, the historical truths of Chinatown and its creation, and how we position ourselves in that history today. We will honor both past and present through the medium of photography and create an archive that can serve future generations. I can envision the A-VOYCE youth leading activations and events throughout the process, from creating an open studio event for any Chinatown residents to get their portrait taken to creating oral histories to accompany the images or even going back into their own family photos and creating art. Going from December 2021 until May 2022, I will be along for every part of the journey!
As a program in Boston Chinatown, A-VOYCE serves the diverse community in Chinatown as well as the broader Asian American community that convenes in Chinatown. Our cohort of 11 youth come from diverse backgrounds from all over the greater Boston area including Dorchester, Wellesley, Newton, and Quincy. This diverse cohort of Asian American youth come together in the heart of Boston Chinatown to learn about and serve the Boston Chinatown community.
A-VOYCE works to empower Asian American youth into community leaders and designers. The program centers on internal identity growth and grounding their identity in Boston Chinatown and broader Asian American history. The curriculum works to honor the untold histories of Boston Chinatown through community tours, interviews, and storytelling. Through the entire process, the youth develop a number of skills that equip them as equitable and community conscious leaders. The intersectional communities that the project intends to honor are youth and BIPOC Chinatown residents with a focus on bridging racial, class, and intergenerational divides.
On a personal level, I have been coming to Chinatown since I was born for every single family birthday, graduation, and moment of celebration. To this day, I still bring my friends and colleagues to Chinatown whenever I get the chance. If I were to receive this grant, I would finally be able to give back to the community and neighborhood that has been giving me joy and a taste of home for my entire life. As I share my skills as an artist with the amazing A-VOYCE youth on their journey to serve BIPOC Chinatown residents with a focus on bridging racial, class, and intergenerational divides, I hope that we can create something they can keep, cherish and hold onto for future generations.