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Life and Work with Anela Oh

Today we’d like to introduce you to Anela Oh.

Anela, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
As a child, I was a great explorer of the worlds inside my head and the nature around me. As someone that moved often, I encountered many different environments. From the creosote bushes and tumbleweed of the Sonoran desert to the smell of hot pine needles in the south to the snow drifts of northern Michigan, I moved between landscapes as an observer but was never truly at home. I found comfort in the constant trips my family would make to the ocean as a child, enchanted by everything from giant kelp to small snails shells and of course, the bliss of diving into the salty water. I would imagine I was a mermaid, a daughter of Poseidon, or a whale, free to discover the worlds beneath the waves.

It’s been quite the love affair, the ocean and I. Waves and fish filled my notebooks and dreams for as long as I can remember and the more I explored through diving or snorkeling the more I found that my restless soul was at peace. As a mixed race kid finding a place I felt myself was particularly potent as I always felt uncomfortable with what my cultural identity meant to who I was becoming. I would make art about the struggles of being mixed and the tension between the Malaysian-Chinese culture and being a white daughter of the American Revolution as my own version of therapy.

In my junior year of high school, I had the life changing opportunity to go to the Oxbow School, an art semester school in Northern California where we would look at academics through the lens of art. In that research based exploration something in me made sense again and I went back into my childhood worlds of kelp and coral and magic. This led to many pieces of art about the ocean and conservation but also, in each I found a self portrait.

From then on, I’ve been enamored with the weaving of social issues, nature, and personal experiences and narratives in a childlike and joyful way that uplifts not only me but others as well.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I feel like the largest obstacle has always been myself. I would separate the different pieces of my life and believe that I could move in a linear path that looked and could measured against others. But even if I wasn’t an artist I’ve come to realize that no path looks the same and that means you have to be attuned to your own needs and markers. I’ve been very privileged to have lots of support and help along the way that allowed me the independent thought to consider my life and my art in a cohesive manner. I think a part of forging your own path, is to understand that your art is connected to who you are and that your story is important; so live your life and it will make your art stronger. We tend to live in a society that separates work, social life, service to community as different things but they are all connected and living a life that is balanced will not only keep you sane, but also make you a better artist.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with your business – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
My art practice involves using materials that have a life of their own. I am neither entirely a research based conceptual artist nor am I focused only on the craft of beautiful or functional objects. I live in-between worlds. I work very intuitively with the materials, whether it be clay, paper, or fiber, each having their own unique processes and techniques to create a final piece of art. Some people call it ‘the zone’, but I like to think of my identity as an artist as a channel for the spirit: “Oh, God, make me a hollow reed, from which the pith of self hath been blown so that I may become as a clear channel through which Thy Love may flow to others”.

The art draws from my large knowledge base surrounding the interactions of people of color with nature and color theory in a way that collaborates with the materials themselves. While building a clay structure of five feet tall, there are moments the clay will bend one direction when you were building it in the other because it has a memory, and I find that this push and pull dynamic makes my sculptures grow in truly organic ways.

Recently, I’ve been re-learning how I look at making art as I spend a lot of time with a nephew, who is newly a toddler and is exploring the world with open and curious eyes. Watching his childlike exploration of nature that involves all of the senses is not only something I am implementing into how I create art but also in how I want others to experience it.

I have created large tactile structures and colorful landscapes of poured paper and filled rooms with the smell of curry powder, and I will continue to create environments of interaction that we have lost in many ways in current art making and viewership.

Who have you been inspired by?
My mother has always been an inspiration to me. She is a fierce educator that constantly worked to keep up with my interests for the week and always supported my art without a fuss. This freedom of mind and spirit that she carefully fed and watered with everything from polychromos jellyfish flashcards to dragon centered fantasy novels with Asian protagonists has allowed me to shape a unique and independent version of myself that impacts how I make art and live my life every day. She made the extra efforts for me to see myself in the world around me, whatever that meant at the time. I have been very blessed to be surrounded by so many strong and intentional women that create their own paths and they remind me I am never alone on this journey to create a deeper, richer, more meaningful society through our unique perspectives and lives.

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Anela Oh

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