After the Environment, Health and Safety department won Arts Everywhere’s “I Was Here: Postcards from the Pandemic” project, they received a $2,500 budget for artwork in their office and clinic space.
We spoke to selected artist Isabel Lu about their experience designing and creating this mural for the Environment, Health and Safety office, as well as their journey as an artist. Read below to learn about the inspiration behind this colorful mural and the advice Isabel gives to aspiring artists!
About the Mural
What was your inspiration for this mural?
The idea for this mural came from the EHS clinic staff. They wanted a serene landscape that was calming for both the staff and the patients. They asked for some specifics, including mountains, a waterfall, and a moon. The mountains provide stability and a safe environment, while the waterfall and clouds carry you through the mural and through the hallway. The sun and moon represent the tirelessness of the clinic staff throughout COVID and the work they do to maintain the health and well-being of the campus and its people. I incorporated my style and inspirations from Chinese landscape painting and graphic design, so we worked collaboratively to create the final design.
Entire view of “Journey through Mountains” 2022
What drew you to use such vibrant colors?
I tend to express myself through color. Since there is less natural light coming into the hallway, I wanted it to feel as if you had the light of the sun and moon shining on you as you walk through.
How does this mural represent the Environment, Health, and Safety department at UNC?
This mural brings the natural environment to a clinical setting, where UNC focuses on the health of persons. Sometimes we forget the impact that spaces and environments can have on our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Talking and collaborating with the EHS clinic staff gave me a better perspective on the incredible work that they do and the sense of tranquility and peace they wanted to feel as they walked into the space every morning. I think art can acknowledge and take care of our humanity, especially when it complements people providing a safe and healthful environment for everyone on campus.
“Journey through Mountains” 2022
Is the mural titled? What’s the meaning behind it?
“Journey Through Mountains”. The title acknowledges the journey we’ve gone through and continue to walk through, and it reminds us to take a pause and enjoy the scenery.
What’s your favorite part of the mural?
I don’t think I can pick a favorite part! I think every aspect of the mural was a piece that the staff and I wanted. Each element complements one another and contributes to the overall piece.
“Journey through Mountains” 2022
What do you hope will come of this transformed space?
What I love about mural painting is that people can live and interact with the art in their daily lives and routines. I really hope my work can evoke a sense of joy, peace, and belonging for anyone in the space.
About the Artist
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your artistic journey.
I’m a first-generation Chinese American who grew up in Greensboro, NC. I’ve been drawing and painting my entire life and I owe a lot of my artistic development to Weaver Academy high school. I earned my Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University and my master’s in public health (MPH) at Gillings. I am currently the Artist in Residence with Durham Art Guild at Golden Belt. Here, I am creating a body of work exploring identity through food, focusing on the experiences of Asian American individuals from North Carolina.
I am working towards an interdisciplinary career incorporating community-driven art and activism to advance Asian American (AA) well-being in NC. For many AA individuals, dedicated spaces where we are encouraged to celebrate our culture are sparse, especially in the American South. Food is often a grounding element we can share with ourselves and our communities, when other aspects of our identity are tainted by the Model Minority Myth, xenophobia, and navigations of biculturalism. Thus, my research focuses on equitable access to culturally relevant foods for AA populations, and investigates how community, ethnic identity, and space contributes to well-being. My artwork is way to share my own experiences and relationships to identity and food. As an asexual, gender non-conforming Chinese American, creating art is a way to explore my identity and make space for AA voices in the American South.
“Rather be Shattered Jade” 2022
Who or what are your inspirations?
Recently, my work is heavily inspired by Asian American, gender, and sexual identity and how those identities are expressed and interpreted by ourselves and others. I usually get inspiration for a painting through conversations with people who share experiences with me and through other BIPOC artists.
Tell us about a favorite project of yours.
This mural and my first at HPDP have been incredible experiences, where I’ve learned so much about large-scale art and collaboration with space and the people that inhabit them. I’m also very excited about my first solo show at Golden Belt in January 2023. Stay tuned!
What’s your dream project?
I would love to help develop a space for North Carolina AAPI artists and creators to collaborate on projects, teach and learn from each other, and share opportunities and resources. If you are interested in collaborating, please reach out! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
One word to describe your art?
How do you balance your work and artistic endeavors?
I try to think about my personal interests and goals, while also acknowledging financial and relationship obligations. For me, it’s important to incorporate art into a pretty regular (ideally daily) practice because I find it helps with my mental health and a steady improvement in my skills. However, I also have a habit of taking on too many opportunities at once and becoming overwhelmed easily. So, I’m trying to say ‘no’ more often to projects that may be ‘busy work’ or don’t align with my values or long term goals. In practical terms, it means I work a 9-5 job, and usually spend a few hours in the evenings and weekends towards art (painting, applying to opportunities, meeting with potential collaborators, etc.).
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Do not be afraid to be yourself and make something that brings you joy or fulfills something for yourself. Speaking from experience, for so long I have tried to make my art something that other people might want (I’m still working on silencing that voice) because I feared people would reject me. But my work just became meaningless and empty. Not to say art always has to have a deep, profound meaning, but I think people can feel when it comes from a place of authenticity or a place of imitation or exploitation. The more I made work about my identity and experiences, people started seeing themselves in my work and I started opening up to new opportunities and relationships. I’m happy to chat with anyone if they reach out! (email@example.com)
“Jobu Tupaki” 2021