Sophia Uehara

Production Designer

Conducted by Pim-Orn Supavarasuwat on April 14, 2021 at New York, New York

Portrait of Sophia Uehara, 2020. Photo by Idil Eryurekli. Courtesy of Sophia Uehara.

Sophia Uehara is an Asian American production designer and graphic designer based in New York City. She holds a BFA from New York University, where she studied Film and Television Production at Tisch School of the Arts. In her work, Uehara seeks to represent marginalized individuals and communities and their narratives in an accurate, respectful, and dignified way through the process of exhaustive and thoughtful research.

In this interview, Uehara discusses her career in production design for film and video, and graphic design. She speaks about her childhood and its influence on her artistic and professional paths, and her education. Uehara shares her perspectives on the representational power and possibilities of film and television. She comments on her project choices and details her experiences working on the short films Limitation of Life (2021) and The Mood in the United States Today (2020). Throughout, Uehara addresses topics of race, racial identity, and the Asian American experience in the United States.

Interview duration: 58 minutes

Pim Supavarasuwat (PS): This is Pim Supavarasuwat interviewing Sophia Uehara on the 14th of April on Zoom. Hello, Sophia. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. So, I wanted to start by talking about your childhood and, perhaps, you could tell me more about where you grew up and what that experience was like.

Sophia Uehara (SU): I was born and raised in Southern California. I grew up in Orange County, which is actually a pretty affluent area of California. It's one of the most conservative counties in California, but there also is a very large immigrant demographic in Orange County. I think growing up, as a kid, I was pretty isolated. Our family was very tight and very close, and we didn't really have so much exposure to other families. I think it was just how my parents raised us. I went to a magnet high school and it was, I would say, around 70% Asian students. That was a really big influence on me and kind of also pushed me to be a little more connected with being Asian American.

PS: You have made a distinction between being Asian American and being Japanese American. I was wondering if you would be comfortable identifying the distinction for me, or characterize it?

SU: Definitely. I think being Japanese American in the US has a lot of connotations tied to the internment camps and the persecution many experienced in the hands of the US government during World War II. So, there's a lot of Japanese American families who have been here for generations, going back four or five generations. Particularly, in California—while my dad was an immigrant to the United States—so, I'm only second generation. So, I don't have the same connection to this Japanese American heritage in this sense, or tied to World War II in the United States. I would say that Asian American as an identity is something that feels more comfortable for me. Just because it's a little more fluid. There are some more universal connections that people have within it, although it’s important to note that this identity is not a monolith and is different for everyone. Additionally, my dad has a very conflicting relationship to being Japanese. So, the way he raised us—sometimes he really denied us parts of our heritage, and sometimes he would share it with us. I think it was tied to how he doesn't really feel like a Japanese person really and that's why he immigrated to the US.

PS: Thank you so much for that. Could you tell me about your dad's journey to the US and how he started feeling this way?

SU: Yeah. A big part of my understanding of my dad is this big cultural narrative that he has always told me since childhood of his family; there’s always this destiny to live in other countries and to not be tied to the country they were born to. So, his grandfather, who was my great-grandfather, was one of the first people in his area to leave Japan. He studied in London, he studied in Seattle and then he came back to Japan to help write policy after World War II, when there was all that negotiation that was happening. I think that was really defining for my dad and his views. So, he went to grad school in France and after he came back to Japan, there was some level of discrimination at the time that he was receiving. There's even a slang term in Japanese, which is the combination of the words for "coming home" and "foreigner": "okaeri" [お帰り] which is "to come home" and "gaijin" [外人], which is "foreigner." Because Japan was so homogenous at the time, in the early 1980s, he was having trouble securing a job and having a life in Japan because of his time abroad. He also had a lot of personal conflict, I think, about Japanese culture. So, he came to the US. He spoke English—or, he was learning. He had a little bit more of an international background and he spoke Japanese, so he joined Japanese television crews in the United States, making documentaries about things for Japanese audiences. He worked as a location manager. This is something that I've been grappling with a lot. Our parents make choices for us about what they think is right for us. I think that's a big part of why he denied me a lot of Japanese experience or didn't teach my brother and I Japanese growing up. He chose very intentionally to not share a lot of things with us. I think it's because he was trying to protect us. This is a very conflicting thing for me and I think that's the biggest, one of the biggest facets about why I identify much more with an Asian American identity than a particularly Japanese identity. Though, I do want to connect more with being Japanese, but even I have noticed, too, when I go back to Japan, when I see people who are Japanese, there is this very big pride and ownership or like an unwillingness to share that identity with others. I see that identity—it’s a part of me, but I'm not fully it. So, they don't want me to claim it. It is conflicting and I would imagine a lot of Asian Americans also have this conflict going back to Korea or China or East Asian countries. I'm not sure about other Asian countries, but I know from my friends in East Asian countries or China, Korea, and Japan and Taiwan, there is this very particular ownership of identity, and a very strong distinction made to separate Asian Americans or other diasporic individuals from this almost “mainland” identity.

PS: I see, thank you so much, Sophia. You spoke about your dad having this destiny to live elsewhere and you just mentioned this uneasiness of going back to Japan. I was wondering if you had thoughts about maybe seeking experiences either in Japan or in other Asian countries and if that fear that you won't be accepted came up and influenced your decision?

SU: Yeah, I think it's been a really long-term goal of mine to live in Japan at least for a year or two years. There's a lot of fear tied to it. A lot of this dream or goal that I have for myself is tied to an internal threshold I have set for myself like, "When I learn Japanese well enough to speak, I can do it," or "when I feel secure enough in myself as a person, I can do it." There is a lot of worry about that. Additionally, too, when I was in Indonesia for a year, I remember really strongly how much discrimination I received. And although it was nothing horribly traumatic, there was a lot of discrimination about not being Indonesian or not being Asian. I think also visually, as a person, I kind of blur the line or the distinction between that being mixed, and that makes things a little complicated as well.

PS: What about your mom? You mentioned that she's a fourth generation Dutch American. Was the question of heritage something that she also insisted on?

SU: She's very American and I think it was because she was raised in a military background. I think, because of that, her ideals are much more connected to, I guess, an American idealism more than anything. I think, for her, a bigger part of her identity has been being an artist or, a big part of her identity is also being the wife of a Japanese man, which is really interesting to me. I think because when you live in this culture and you were raised in it, I don't think she's actively really thought about being American or being distinct from it. And because her Dutch heritage is so far back, she has a lot of memories of the way her grandparents raised her, but it's not as close to her as I would say, like in the case of my dad directly coming to this country or like you coming to this country and having to relearn things or you being in the UK. Things get lost over time.

PS: Thank you so much for sharing that. I think that's a great segue for me to ask you about your mom's art actually and your dad's as well and what it was like to have this opportunity to have artmaking being a big part of your childhood. Could you tell me more about that, perhaps?

SU: I feel very lucky. I think I didn't realize as a kid, how generous my parents were with their time to really give us the opportunities to just play in creating. Also, museums were very important to them. Spending time in these big cultural institutions, I would say, too, was very important in the way that they raised us. It wasn't really until I got to high school but I didn't realize that it was unusual. I mean, I knew that our family was weird and different, but I didn't realize how much of a privilege it was to have people that appreciated art in this way and that would support me as an artist in my career also. Since both of my parents were trained classically in their disciplines, they're very talented people and they have a very deep understanding of their crafts. I think that, growing up, it was particularly helpful that in these instances they removed their judgment from our creativity and they really pushed us to succeed, which, I think, is something unusual. A lot of people who want to pursue art or a creative craft have some difficulty with parents getting behind it, just because financially it's very difficult. It's not always viable. I was very lucky that it was slightly discouraged as a career choice but, in the end, they were really like, "we can get behind this and we can understand why you feel like you have to do this."

PS: How did you come to choose the film and TV program at NYU [New York University]?

SU: In high school, I really started paying attention to television, specifically, as a medium for being able to transmit information. At the time, there was a lot of showrunners who were of—I would say, minority race backgrounds that were becoming more popular at the time and that was incredibly fascinating to me because this was the first time that I could recognize that, "Wow, there's a lot of power in being able to showcase and elevate minority actors and talent in shows like Sense8, The Mindy Project, Master of None, and Jane the Virgin." For example, Jane the Virgin shows someone who is from a Latina background and shows their culture in an easy, digestible, enjoyable, entertaining format. If you're watching it to be entertained, the audience is still learning a lot of information about this person's culture, about their heritage, about the values of the society and also the experience of being an immigrant in the United States or being part of that diaspora. So, at the time, I didn't really see any other option, but to be a showrunner or an actress, which is very funny to me now because I hate being in front of a camera for the most part. I think the bigger part of deciding to attend NYU was that it offered a very international approach to this, or rather, a metropolitan based experience. I was really excited about the opportunity to experience how diverse of a city New York is and how many different types of people you meet every day. I think, too, in the end, with production design, it didn't even occur to me that it was an option before I went to university. In your first year in film school you're supposed to be on a lot of student productions and I was volunteering on random roles and on one of my first student sets and I saw someone doing set design and I was like, "wow, I could see myself doing that, this seems really interesting to me." Additionally, I was really thinking about, "Oh, this is the angle that I can take." This is a way to educate people or to inform people about different backgrounds and it can be done in a way that's not in your face. It's a very subtle education. It's a way to transmit information in a way that's not super obvious. It's also a really powerful medium of connection that people can see themselves in the experience of other characters—they can connect with who's on screen. Design has a really big role in that.

PS: Would you say that the education you received at NYU or the classes that were offered or the classes that you took prepared you professionally?

SU: I think a lot of people say this about film school, "You're paying so much to meet other people. You're not really paying people for the classes." Unfortunately, a lot of the professors have very antiquated views of the film industry—the ones that are good teachers stopped being in the industry a long time ago and the ones who are good, professional people, are bad teachers and are so busy doing their actual work they're not great professors because they are so overextended, and many people who work full time in the industry have little interest in teaching at all. I really learned a lot from student sets and from learning how to be with other people and how to navigate those relationships. I would say, once I got to my last year of school, I was finally able to connect with professors and actually get some really good, direct work experience from them. But, the thing is, I had to be really certain in my craft and what I wanted to do, for me to approach the professors and for me to really seek out the mentorship. There’s also so many kids that it's almost impossible to really connect with professors unless you're the one seeking them out.

PS: Oh, wow. Well, yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that insight.

SU: You can be a successful individual in film and have a full career without a degree. It's entirely unnecessary. I know so many people who have dropped out of school and have really successful careers. Though, I think school gives the opportunity to meet others and it gives the opportunity to open yourself to new experiences.

PS: I'm really interested in hearing how you would self-identify as a professional.

SU: I would definitely say, first and foremost, a production designer. I have been in a lot of roles within the art department and film that I think are completely necessary and I do think that lots of people can be super fulfilled in these other positions. It's not like being the production designer makes you the top leader or makes you more important. Each role is very important and essential for the production to go smoothly to completion, but I do really like the theoretical aspect of production design. I also really like the research and I really like the planning versus, say, an art director, whose role is really hands-on on set and in making the schedules, managing things. So, I do connect a lot more with the overview and being able to create the metaphors and themes, and really think through these choices on a more holistic approach in comparison to thinking about the execution or managing the execution, I think. I think all of these are parts of the whole. I really like graphic design. I think it's a complement to the craft. So, it's like all of these pieces fit together in the puzzle of my discipline.

PS: Yeah, it does. Absolutely. And I, I think I have a much better understanding now of what it means to be, say, a production designer versus an art director.

SU: I have a chart that I can send you, which will explain this department. It gets very complicated. I'm still learning so much and I recognize there's so much of the industry I don't understand yet, and I am excited to learn more as I develop in my craft.

PS: I was wondering if maybe you could talk me through a project that you did where you feel like you most connected with your craft and your work and your role?

SU: I'm so early on in my career that I feel like I do have to be a little bit more open, but, generally, I am very picky about my projects because I recognize that there is this very specific niche that I want to fill, of being able to provide good research and good design for people of minority backgrounds and represent them in very holistic and realistic and dignified ways. I think there's some really bad design out there and I think there's some design that's very tone deaf and not respectful of cultures, that does not take the time to understand the details or the nuances of people. So the first step is that I'm very picky about my projects. If I commit to something, especially now, I take a lot of thought, thinking through and making sure it's something I connect with. Very early on, there's a lot of work with the director talking about the script and having a lot of conversations asking, "What is your goal here? How can I help you fulfill this? What kind of research or cultural immersion can you point me towards?" so I can have a little bit more of an understanding of how to approach the project. I think a big part of my approach that's different from other people that I've met, at least at my level, is that I'm very purposeful in trying to have conversations with people from this culture or the director or their families, and that I am really also trying to have firsthand experiences of certain things. There was a set that I went with the director to Virginia and I spent a weekend with her family—she's Palestinian—and I met her grandmother and her aunt. We made bread together for the film. We made food together. She taught me and the director directly. She was saying, "This is how I make this. This is a story behind this." She pulled out some of her jewelry. We looked at some of her clothing. We had a lot of conversations about the meaning and significance behind certain pieces that the director wanted to include in the film because they were important to her. So, having those experiences like that are very valuable to me as a designer because it gives me a much deeper understanding of where I'm coming from with this, instead of making uninformed decisions, but there are still guesses off of the internet or off of books or something else. It's not the same as having this direct experience with someone. You can get a lot of information from books and you can get a lot of information from watching videos and films and from looking up stuff on the internet, but it only goes so far. I have tried to very early on pick a team that has people from that background or that identity. I recognize I don't know everything and there's a lot I can learn from people who can speak that language or who actually grew up with that or know what the grandma character is like in real life, because that's their grandma. It's much more valuable for me to share that with someone and be able to rely on their firsthand experience instead of me guessing about it at the end of the day.

PS: It seems like [the director] was really open with you coming and spending time with the family in Virginia and I don't imagine that's something that happened on every project, but how often, or how open are people usually, to giving you information and access?

SU: It depends, but I would also say that people are very surprised when they see how much work I want to put into this. Rather not how much work, but how intentional I'm trying to be with this and it makes people a little more open or a little more willing to share. I think it would be one thing to be super disrespectful and walk all over it and that might cause people to close up. I think showing earnestness and the fact that I want to do good, or I want to show this in a dignified way, I think it goes a long way.

PS: It's great having access to the family histories. How do you start constructing those metaphors?

Set from Limitation of Life, November 2019. Photo by Sophia Uehara.


SU:
I think a lot of the choices are made from looking at reference images or looking at photographs from people's lives directly. There's a lot of replication that happens too. I think for Limitation of Life we took it a little bit further because we were making these decisions not based directly off of someone's life, or their background. There was a more nebulous hole that we were pulling from. Even with a project like that, we knew a really big reference were the films Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows, which were both Douglas Sirk films, I believe, and which were both American films that were really big influences. So, we were really studying the time period that we're trying to set. We know that this film is a reference point and we also know that we're trying to tie in this diaspora Chinese identity. The question is, really, "How can we make sure that we're balancing all these elements?" Then I think, "Okay, I'm going to have a conversation—I'm intentionally gonna write down questions," for example, "I know that this color in the US means this thing and I really want to use it because of the symbolism, but how do you feel about this in relation to your culture?" Or I would have this idea visually that I think is really beautiful—the Chinese panels—and I think this would be a really interesting metaphor that you're seeing someone through a screen and so you're not able to connect with them as much. Then I'd go to the director and then I’d go to my friend, who's Chinese, and I'd go to my costume designer, who's Chinese, and I'd say, "Okay, how do you feel about this? How does this make you feel? Does this feel like something that's relevant to you? Does it feel like something that makes sense in relation to your culture and how you perceive it? If you were imagining this element, how would you imagine it?" It's a lot of cross checking. Arguably, it's not with every decision that I can do this, but I think that, for the ones that are really important, these are the things that I can make choices about and that's why again it is very important for me, if I have the chance, to hire people who are from that background in these larger roles within my department so I can have these conversations with them and have people that I trust—that trust me—so that we can have these more open conversations and really value and include their input, experiences, and opinions as well. It can be very difficult to share your culture. It can be very hard to trust someone with this experience of something so personal to you. I think the research though is one of the big parts for me, and bringing others into this work as well is incredibly fulfilling to me.

Still from Limitation of Life, November 2019. Photo by Sophia Uehara.


PS:
What helps you in the process of research? What if you don't have access to the family?

SU: If I don't have that direct access, a lot of it is conversations with the director. I think most of the things that I really like working on are very personal to the director. So, even if I don't have access to family, I try to have conversations with the director. A film that I worked on in November, the director—her parents—one of her parents was Nigerian and one of her parents is from Ghana and that was something I thought, "I had no understanding of this." I have very little understanding and exposure to this culture—I have some friends, who have a friend who's Nigerian, but we're not super close. And so I was trying to figure out how to navigate this project without a lot of personal access or connection to the background of the director. A lot of times when you're on the internet, it's very hard to find a lot of information in very specific ways about different cultures. So, I ended up thinking about how I could use living in New York City to my advantage in how incredibly diverse it is. I said to myself, "I know that there are some very specific props that I need to buy. I'm going to go to the African market in Harlem. I'm going to spend an afternoon there and figure things out from there as a first step." Then I have a conversation with the director, asking, "What are the exact pieces that you're looking for? What is something that you had in your childhood that you think I should be looking for here? What do you connect with?" Then, after I bought the key props and set dressings, I had another conversation with the director saying, "How can we make sure that we're featuring this? Which pieces make sense for you? What works, what doesn't? How can we make this work? How can we turn this into what we created in this way?" Also, honestly, sometimes, too, it's really hard doing this stuff when you don't have an access point and that’s something in my process that I'm trying to work on. I want to figure out how to do this better and work on this question of "How can I make sure that I'm doing this without those resources?" or "How can I find the resources to do it?" Because showing up to this place in New York City and having conversations with random people—ideally, that's a great thing, but also strangers do not trust people in the same way someone who is trained to be a cultural resource or someone you have some rapport with. I would hope, if I'm on these bigger productions where I don't have as much access, that I'm in a position in my career that I can bring these things come up as a conversation and ask—a lot of films now have cultural consultants—how can I make sure that I can have the confidence to ask for a consultant or to admit and say, "I'm really out of my range here. Can you help me? I need someone to help me have a better perspective or understand this a little more." In the end, that film turned out really well. But I relied really heavily on the director. And I think it's important to have more than just one perspective on it too. Just to have a little more well-rounded approach.

PS: I'm glad that it went really well. It sounded like it was a good experience, too. Could you maybe tell me about a set that was really personally meaningful to you or maybe taught you a lot?

SU: I think Limitation of Life really taught me a lot of technical abilities and skills on how to manage a really big team. That was the first time I had worked with that big of a budget. I think I had around $10,000 and I was managing fifteen other students within my department. That was really cool for me to be able to really push my imagination. It was kind of an amalgamation of research and design and a bridging of the two. I didn't have the family member or a specific person who was like, "Look at these tiles from my bathroom, this is what they look like," that I then could look for them on the internet and decide, "Oh, this is what the tiles look like. I'm going to buy a similar thing." I didn't have that. So, this experience was more like, "Okay, how can I fill in the gaps and make these choices in between and still make sure that I'm doing this in an informed way and taking the time to make these choices." I would also say, though, that this experience was so stressful. I felt like I was going to fall over the whole time.

Still from The Mood in the United States Today, April 2019. Photo by Idil Eryurekli. Courtesy of Sophia Uehara.

But then, I think every set is a very different experience. The Mood in the United States Today was definitely a much more personal approach. That was about six months prior. It was about an older American woman and her caretaker. The main characters we're both women and the caretaker was having issues with immigration so they decided to get married. That was really interesting, that was much less like there was some cultural research that was going into it. But more importantly, I think that was a really good collaborative experience between the director having conversations about this, and also it tied personally to my identity of being queer. That was a very interesting and special aspect of it for me as well. At the end of the day, every film has its positive, interesting things and then it has very frustrating things. Every experience is a learning opportunity to become better in our craft and approach for the next one.

PS:
I see. Thank you so much for sharing that. How do your processes differ according to the format of the piece—short films, music video, et cetera?

SU: I have a very similar approach overall, but I would say that narrative gives me much more time to flesh out and build out the complexity of the design and choices. MVs [music videos] are typically much more visual based and quickly paced, so the amount of screen time for items is much shorter and has to have more of a visual punch, often they are more stylized in general as well.

PS: I wanted to ask you in particular about where you draw your inspiration, maybe in life—in all of your crafts?

SU: I think a big part of why I went to film school was that I really like psychological metaphors and design. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a really good example of that—the developing psychology of the characters is directly shown in the set design. That's always something that's been incredibly fascinating to me. This question of, "How can we, in a subtle way or not subtle way show the development of the characters in the way they dress, in their spaces, or in the ways they interact with the world?" I think, also, I really appreciate the natural world and art museums. I think taking the time to absorb art and give yourself opportunities for exposure to art and information and the natural world is a very essential thing to being a well-rounded artist and creative in this world. There is so much beauty in being alive and experiencing things that we can find really beautiful things around us all the time. Like the way the light falls on buildings or different textures on the street. There's a lot. I think a lot about classical works and how they capture the realism of the worlds but show it in an emotive way. Because a lot of things that we do, even in books, in literature, and in any art form is really the capturing of reality but imbuing it with emotions and imbuing it with meaning, which is what humans do.

PS: Thank you. That was beautiful!

SU: I'm also inspired by Asian American writers or Asian Americans and film. There's a lot of literature that I connect to. Ted Chiang has some really good short stories. I'm currently reading The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. I really appreciate the movement of the work that's being produced by Asian Americans in the United States today and internationally. But I also recognize that there's a long way to go and I do not want to limit myself or limit other creators to this. I think, for a lot of minorities, there's so much further that we can go and so we can have inspiration from these people we have before us, but we can also reach way further back and we can think way forward. There's so much potential ahead.

PS: Thank you. That was beautiful. I understand that in-person productions have been halted during the pandemic. Could you share with me the ways in which you have been directly or indirectly practicing your craft during these strange times?

SU: I stopped film work for the most part and transitioned to working a full-time job in e-commerce and graphic design at a jewelry company. But, in a way, this has given me the freedom to be more discerning with the projects I pick and the work I want to engage with. Many of my peers are still working full-time in the industry and things are returning to the same way it was before. I have been trying to conserve my energy and creativity for the moments and projects I cherish the most. I am working on a music video that is informed by Afrofuturism and the idea of the expanded diasporic Afrofuturist imagination. It’s called Lagos and it's the only project I have on my docket now. I'm really limiting what I'm working on, and trying to give each project the attention and energy it deserves. The music video is mostly stylized and a lot of the choices are informed by the visuals and final goal more than the metaphor, but I still really appreciate that we are trying to provide an expanded vision and world for the characters to inhabit—bigger and further than our current imaginations can grasp—and that is a very beautiful and hopeful thing: to imagine a world beyond the institutional and structural forms of racism and oppression. Now, the world is super messed up. We have so many issues. The whole—the hate crimes about Asian women.

PS: Can you elaborate on that?

SU: I'm so conflicted about that. I really was so overwhelmed from social media and—I had some friends reached out to me and they were like, "Can you share your experiences of trauma being Asian American?" I had a friend who was Black reach out to me and ask that and I had a very conflicted reaction. Unfortunately, Asians also are—our hands are not clean. We're not free until we're all free. There are so many minorities, especially Asian people that are incredibly biased, incredibly prejudiced and are unwilling to look past that—but when these situations happen are completely willing to cast this aside—and this is the only time they speak up. They didn't speak up during Black Lives Matter. They didn't speak up during all these other instances, and this is the time they choose to speak. I have a lot of problems with that. I really was conflicted about the shootings in Atlanta, because it was so horrible and the news coverage was so unwilling to really look at it from a broader lens—this is tied to Orientalism and the way that Asian women are overtly sexualized and seen as submissive in Western media and culture and, maybe he did have a sex problem or he had had a bad day, but that's such a distilled and dismissive way to frame this loss of life. A lot of Asian Americans in the US are very conservative and there’s this very distinct pride and unwillingness to share a culture—or share, I don't know, equality and opportunity with other people. We have a long way to go. I wish it wasn't this way. I also recognize that it's really horrible, what has been happening. I'm worried for a lot of people who are Asian, but also like, it’s incredibly complicated. Yeah. And I am deeply disturbed by people on social media and capitalistic driven companies and corporations, making statements of reposting stuff for clout or to avoid getting in trouble.

PS: I was really overwhelmed that one week. It's just—the news articles—and then going on social media is just the same posts by people that I, yeah, I don't know. I keep seeing, you know people posting the same things over and over and it looked like a reaction rather than a thoughtful consideration of what had happened. It was so easy to do—right. You can repost something and then kind of keep up the appearance of being in line with everyone else.

SU: But also I’ve seen so much hate in Asian American communities towards other races that it's incredibly hard for me to reconcile with this. I understand why but it doesn't seem justified in my head, and then this is part of the problem. At my job, I'm the only Asian person. The day after the shooting, we had a video shoot and the owner decided to take all the chains that we sold in the store and put them in this Chinese takeout box and pretend to be eating them out of the box with chopsticks. I was like, "Oh, there was a shooting yesterday on Asian people. This is happening now?" I think, in some forms, yes, those could be very innocent faux pas. It is a very basic thing. But again, at the end of the day, anything including any type of design, it is a choice. There's meaning that is behind every choice, whether you understand it or not. And there can be some very heavy connotations behind stuff if you're not really making those active decisions about things. It's a shame and I hope Asian designers and Asian artists and—designers or artists of any background—are willing to really look beyond this paradigm that we're in and this very self-protective mentality and able to be more generous and more forward thinking about equitable justice and racial equality in this country.

Still from Gold Token, November 2020. Photo by Gabriel Connelly. Courtesy of Sophia Uehara.

PS: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Sophia. I think that's a heavy place to end, but also really hopeful. And I think just hearing about your work, your process, how much research and how much you put into your work, I think it will make for great information for people, for me for one. So, thank you so, so much.

SU: It was really nice to be able to think about this more holistically and about my career, because I feel like at this point in my life, I'm just kind of like one foot after the other. So thank you for this generous opportunity for me to think ahead: to imagine and to dream and think further for myself.

[End of interview]

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