Delving into the roots and visions behind three of Sacramento’s Asian-American artists

By Madison Duong

A growing number of Asian-American artists are getting inspiration from Sacramento, allowing art-lovers to find education and enrichment around cultures they may not know much about.

Jackie Wada, Holly Guenther and Vivi Om are up-and-coming creators who share a love of incorporating their cultures in their work. Through trial and error, they’re starting to build their names and brands around town.

Guenther, the artist and owner behind Kimchi Kawaii, says the “Kimchi” in her company’s name represents her as a Korean artist, while the “Kawaii” means “cute” in Japanese, which is aligned with the theme of her art.

Guenther’s pieces consists of a lot of charming, punny jokes that come in forms of prints, accessories and plushies. Many of these items have been a hit on her website, ranging in price from $25 to $45. Guenther notes that her Korean heritage was, at first, only in the “Kimchi” part of her business name.

“As I started getting more established and feeling comfortable that I could experiment more, the last few years I really wanted to represent more Korean heritage because you don’t see that much,” Guenther said. “I started incorporating a lot more designs that represent Korean culture.”

She added that one of the most significant art pieces that she’s made is a Korean haetae plush.

“A haetae is a traditional and mythological creature found in Korean folklore,” Guenther explained. “They are believed to protect against fire and chaos and stand for justice.”

Korean haetae plush designed and created by Holly Guenther. (Photo by Holly Guenther)

Guenther sees her haetae plush as a piece that began as a passion project but ended up becoming a great hit.

“People have really liked it, and when I sell it at conventions, I have a little sign with an educational paragraph explaining the haetae and people actually stop to read it,” Guenther reflects. “It’s been cool because I get to represent Korean heritage in a way that most people might not know about.”

One of Guenther’s most-recent pieces she’s excited to share is a fan art pin of K-Pop group member Suga from BTS, also known as Agust D.

“The pin is based off of his music video ‘Daechwita’ where he acts as a Korean tyrant while wearing a hanbok with gold dragons,” Guenther said. “For the enamel pin, I actually detailed the dragon that’s on his sleeve.”

Delving into supernatural and fantasy themes

Water Lily and Koi Fish Boba Tea design by Vivi Om. (Photo by Vivi Om)

Vivi Om, also known as Sotara – an artist and graphic designer – says growing up as a Cambodian-American included feeling criticized and discouraged by her family for being too “American” when she showed her interests or voiced opinions.

“To overcome the stereotypes and stigma, I just followed my dreams anyway,” Om recalled. “I taught art full-time for a couple of years and now I have my own small art and stationery business.”

Om went on to say that she grew up watching lots of anime and cartoons which inspired her artwork. It consists of many fantasy, supernatural, adventure and horror themes. She sells pieces in the forms of prints, apparel and accessories. One of Om’s most common items are printed stickers that she’s designed in a sheet, or individually, which cost between $4 and $6.

Other themes Om creatively pursues include self-care, mental health awareness, strong boundaries, courage, friendship, love, Japanese pop culture and nostalgia.

“In my recent digital painting ‘Trapped in a Toxic Relationship,’ the branches represent personal growth,” Om shared. “The red ribbons are the people and obstacles that hold me back from growing or keep me stuck in a cycle and the character represents me and the clothes she wears are what I have.”

‘Trapped in a Toxic Relationship’ by Vivi Om

Om tends to paint lavender purple because it is her favorite color, and she feels like it represents herself.

“I painted this when I had a few setbacks in my goals because of how the actions of others affected my life,” she observed.

One of the pieces that Om thinks represents Asian culture is her Water Lily and Koi Fish Boba Tea design.

“The water lily symbolizes purity, and the koi fish symbolizes wealth and success in Chinese culture,” Om detailed. “In Japan, the koi fish symbolizes strength, courage, patience and success through perseverance … Personally to me, this art piece shows my appreciation for boba tea and how it brings my family and friends together for quality time. The water lily is also an important motif for Cambodians as it is related to Buddhism — the main religion in Cambodia. It symbolizes resurrection.”

Artwork that embraces Sacramento

Jackie Wada’s painting tribute to the Sacramento Kings. (Photo by Jackie Wada)

Jackie Wada, artist and basketball trainer, knows being from Sacramento has played a big role in her themes.

“Sacramento will always be home to me and the adrenaline from the Sacramento Kings games has definitely inspired me to create,” Wada stressed. “I work for the Kings and do their Jr. NBA camps, and have met some of my closest friends within the organization, so when I create a Sacramento Kings painting, the meaning behind it is very special.”

Wada’s approach to art starts with her painting on canvases, and every piece is always new from random and impulsive inspirations that she finds through her daily life. Her canvases can be used for decorating living spaces, and she creates both large and small scale portraits that range from $40 to $1,500.

She feels that being half Japanese and Chinese has been a blessing, as it helps her to tie more of her culture in her art.

“While painting, I actually become more inspired to learn more about my culture as the small symbolic details speak to my art,” Wada noted. “I went to Japan in 2019 and became inspired by the beautiful abstract and landscapes.”

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