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Meet an East River Neighbor - Siyan Wong

Updated: May 10, 2023

Born in China and raised in New York City, Siyan Wong is a first generation immigrant and an East River Coop resident artist. She has been a member of our community since 2007. Her subjects include the working poor, the homeless, women and the elderly. Siyan acquired her art fundamentals at LaGuardia High School of Music, Art and Performing Arts. Siyan continued her education studying history and economics in college, culminating with a law degree She began working as a workers' rights lawyer but still engaged in art one way or another. Since 2015, she renewed her art studies by taking classes at various places, including the New York Art Academy, Cooper Union and, currently, the Art Students League. Siyan is inspired by the colors of Paul Cezanne, the confidence in Alice Neel's lines, the powerful stories told by Jacob Lawrence’s simple figures and forms, and the passion of Isidre Nonell to paint the socially ostracized at a time when they were “invisible.” Since 2018, Siyan has exhibited her paintings at the Equity Gallery of New York Artist Equity Association, New York Arts Center, and The National Arts Club. She has spoken about the her art at The Black Institute, Asia Society New York, Museum of Chinese in America, and various universities. As a workers' rights lawyer, Siyan’s contact with everyday working people demonstrates her empathy and artistic vision. But her immigrant roots and her daily encounters as a Chinese American and Asian American woman illuminate her visual interests.

"©Siyan Wong, All Rights Reserved." Siyan's most recent exhibition: Five points A Convergence of Dreams April 6 – 29, 2023 Curated by Savona Baily McClain Overview

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and access are the trending buzz words defining the gains, and alarming backlash, surrounding the intent to level the cultural playing field. An open arts community representative of the greater world it informs was the dream of NYAE’s founders—though in 1947, the year the association was founded, that liberal aspiration was nothing short of radical in a world dominated by straight white males.

Seventy-five years later and that hard won advance has seen significant gains not only in the arts but in many commercial, professional, and societal vectors. Said gains now seem commonplace as we saunter from one Lower East Side gallery to the next before stopping at a chic sidewalk café for an iced chai latte. It"s near impossible to imagine these same streets teeming with recent immigrants fighting for some small portion of the cultural and economic resources seeming, for the first time, to be within their reach. Within the Five Point district they converged—in America's original melting pot. The first settlers were newly emancipated blacks and ethnic Irish, their cohabitation signaling the first large-scale instance of volitional racial integration in American history. Successive waves followed, Italians, Eastern European Jews, Chinese and more recently Latins—each group drawing lines in the sand, desperate for a foothold in the mythic American dream. We look back at that time of opportune, if not forced co-habituation and cognizant of the many tensions between competing groups that often led to violence, question if there are not certain parallels with our own time. On the national and international stage there is an abundance of evidence indicating that present gains pointing towards a truly equitable world are at best tenuous and on a more personal level, our own thoughts and actions are likely far from utopian when we perceive our own needs threatened. How often are we victimized by our own greed, forever grabbing for more than we need while fearful that there will never be enough? How do we honestly feel about those that look and act differently from us?

Taking the Five Points neighborhood as a starting point, NYAE will exhibit a range of artist works that foreground and explore the multiplicity of issues arising in a society that seeks to celebrate a diversity of being.

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