Artist Phung Huynh appears to be uniquely suited for her new role as creative strategist for the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs.
The South Pasadena resident and mother of two is both an immigrant and a refugee.
“I’m a Vietnamese refugee, my father is Cambodian and survived the genocide in the 1970s and he sought asylum in Vietnam, where he met my mom,” she explained in a recent interview. “In the ’70s, my family and I were [Vietnamese] boat people and we settled in the United States. So that experience of being a refugee deeply informed my work.”
Huynh’s work in drawing, painting and public art explores cultural assimilation, representation and perception. Themes of her work range from Asian female body image and plastic surgery influenced by Western beauty ideals to the refugee experience in Southeast Asian communities.
Her current work focuses on Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants. Huynh noticed that the pink doughnut boxes that can be seen everywhere are a tradition started by Cambodian refugees, who own more than 1,500 doughnut shops in the state, which inspired her to draw portraits on them.
She is also an educator at Los Angeles Valley College and moved to South Pasadena so her sons could have access to a good public school system. She has since served as a member of the South Pasadena Public Art Commission and currently chairs the panel.
“A lot of my practice and education and art is really centered on social justice and equity and making sure that everybody has access to arts and culture,” explained Huynh.
Huynh assumed the role of creative strategist, also called artist in residence, on June 25. The position was created on the recommendation of the Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative, a report released by the county Department of Arts and Culture that developed 13 recommendations to the county’s Board of Supervisors to promote equitable access to art and culture for all.
“Phung Huynh’s work speaks to the immigrant story and makes a perfect match to help the Office of Immigrant Affairs celebrate the contributions of immigrants that make L.A. County a vibrant and welcoming place for all,” said Hilda Solis, the Board of Supervisors chair, in a statement.
Only the eighth artist in residence, Huynh is the first to be placed in the OIA. The residency usually lasts one year. Other departments in which artists have served include the L.A. County Library, Department of Mental Health, Office of Violence Prevention and Department of Parks and Recreation.
According to Huynh, her job is to “connect with immigrant communities, identify what they see as valuable art and how they want to express their ways in making art and amplify.”
“I see being an artist as a service to my community,” she added.
Moreover, she plans to use art to build trust between immigrant communities and the OIA.
“The OIA is worried that immigrant communities don’t trust them and will not take advantage of resources and access to things,” Huynh said, “so that is going to be a big part of what I’m going to be doing with them.”