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Interviews Fine Art Discover

Artist Ebin Lee reflects on art as resistance and a form of therapy

Ebin Lee is an artist, illustrator and designer based in Portland, Oregon. Lee's work centers around race, mental health and anxiety. Lee's most recent book, A Wretch Like Me: Sad/Black/Ugly/Queer is moving to say the least, and is what caught the attention of Blavity's Creative Society to highlight their work. Read the interview below for more information on Lee and their work.

Blavity: When did you decide that drawing would be your chosen medium of art?

Ebin Lee: Honestly I used to draw Ren and Stimpy and Hey Arnold! fan fic cartoons when I was like 6 or 7. That's how I started drawing on my own. When I grew older, I just learned to love the variety of drawing. I love that I can draw anywhere with so many different things and ways.   http://ebinlee.com/ Photo: ebinlee.com

B: As a fan of your work, your art feels like resistance. Do you draw with resistance in mind? Or is your creative process more therapeutic and cathartic?

EL: The resistance is just making the art after years of being told I couldn't draw the right way and dealing with white micro-aggressions that implied what I had to say wasn't important or is me just pulling the race card. It's both therapeutic and cathartic to let myself speak in some way. Growing up a black woman I felt I was either losing my voice to being silenced constantly or from trying to literally scream to the world I was a real person, and so its nice to have something no one can take. http://ebinlee.com/ Photo: ebinlee.com  

B: You illustrated the cover art for Sister Soldiers: On Black Women, Police Brutality, and the True Meaning of Black Liberation. As the discussions around Black Lives Matter and police brutality flood the media, what are your thoughts on the role of art in the fight for liberation?

EL: Not all of us can or want to march or give a speech or even know how we want to stand up for ourselves and others. Art is something that can both do that and explore that. We can do it for ourselves to figure ourselves out or use art as therapy to deal with everything. I don't have words to always express what I'm feeling, but i feel comfortable putting it in picture form. I think its time for everyone to do whatever they can and are able to do. http://ebinlee.com/ Photo: ebinlee.com

B: Your book A Wretch Like Me: Sad/Black/Ugly/Queer is extremely honest and raw. Do you ever struggle with making unfiltered art about the realities of being someone with such an intersectional identity? 

EL: Making the art is easy for me because I'm someone who is really unfiltered most of the time in my everyday conversation. I don't see talking about my problems as some huge bummer. The bummer is peoples response to saying what you feel and how you feel, which is usually that you are weak or unconfident. I hate that way more.

B: You live in Portland, a city known for being notoriously white, how does living and working in Portland influence your art?

EL: I give Portland a lot of shit because its the whitest city in the country and should get a lot of shit for the things that arise out of that. I owe this place so many things though, it's where I came of age as a queer person and was able to just live my life. This has been a wonderful place to be "queer" in but a terrible place to be "black and queer" in. It has so much to do with my art because it forced me to look at my whole life objectively for the first time in both a good and bad way. There are so many things I've had to come to terms with and think about, which on the surface sounds like some coming-of-age, everything-works-out-in-the-end story. But honestly, it's because my mental health has gotten so bad at so many times here I've had to make sense of my life and blackness to stay and want to continue to stay alive. http://ebinlee.com/ Photo: ebinlee.com

B: Who are artists that inspire and influence your work?

EL: People I see out in public with sketchbooks, my old friends from art school and lots of '90s euro-dance like la bouche and culture beat.

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