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Keith Photography

When it comes to anything glamour related, it’s hard to see humility in the persons who live it, whether it be through lifestyle, profession, constructed media identity, or something else. But talking with Bay Area’s makeup artist Van Pham, founder of Vanity Pham, cosmetics become more than the surface, by making up and thereby creating an aesthetically inclined membrane. She specializes in pageantry and wedding makeup for her work, but her talents and training bring her to areas of work that don’t necessarily make the general civilian think of “makeup artist needed”, i.e. to create gorey looks. Makeup art is one of those places where the line of selling out to working purely for money and client satisfaction runs parallel with the line of being completely independent and free as an artist; this is where Van sets herself apart as one who manages to converge and balance the two by owning both. Perhaps that is because the conversation is shared with Van, or perhaps the conversation serves to represent for the microcosm of makeup art.
Van Pham has always loved makeup. She experimented with makeup on her own face, dashing dark hues, bright colors, and contouring her face into all sorts of shapes through the stroke of a shade. She found that most others didn’t really want to get experimented on, but rather desire to be “beautified”. The various ways of “beautifying” to clients’ satisfaction range as long as their individual interpretations of how to appear beautiful, usually based on media’s wide propagation. They typically come to Van with a desire to look like Celebrity x-y-z. With every face Van makes, she is sensitive to the client’s desire, whether it be a gorey look for Halloween, or a China-doll face for a pageant. Due to her experimental and professional experiences, she can often tell what will compliment clients’ facial anatomy from first glance. Sometimes, clients are very set on a particular shade of red for lipstick, or simply cannot handle “looking so gorgeous”. They tell her just that, saying they don’t feel it’s quite their own face. In those cases, Van will wipe off all the makeup and begin again. As a commercial makeup artist, the client’s wishes are completely privileged. Van just brings her palette of expertise and carefully sensitive consideration. The humility she practices in serving others’ beauty, costume, and or confidence needs is the primer to her professional practice. But when she’s in her own private space, she spirals out with her artistic creativity, having been inspired by the nature around her every day.
Though she loves color, the gentleness and harmony of flowers are also reflected in her professional development and practice. She’s been assistants to master makeup artists, where she learned how to read a face for all its texture variations (i.e. wrinkles, i.e. acne, i.e. scars), moisture and oil production, as well as bone structure. From there, she considers her Asian background as a blessing when she caters to both Asian and non-Asian clientel. Her sensitivity to Asian clients a la being equipped with eyelid tape and fake eyelashes are another aspect of her uniqueness, when others may only be able to make a face appear symmetrical through contouring. But make no mistake, doing makeup is not in Van’s genes, or done out of monetary need.
Van did makeup secretly until she couldn’t keep it in any longer. Her clientel grew, as did pageants to work at, and weddings booked, to stay quiet. Her parents wanted her to “get a good job like being a doctor” because they themselves immigrated to the U.S. and resorted to the beauty industry out of monetary need. But after seeing Van love her work and being loved by her work, they too are proud of her being a makeup conoisseur and experimental artist.
The genuine truthfulness Van brings to her practice is one of the elements for what sets her apart as an artist. She is fully aware of the fact that cosmetics can only cover blemishes i.e. acne and wrinkles, and that they cannot provide a permanent alteration. She lets her clients know that though the makeup will make their face look a certain way for the camera, the fact that they need to drink more water to make their skin brilliant all the time, is something her brushes, creams and powders cannot provide. While cameras have come a long way in technology, the human eye can still spot more than just the aesthetic superficial.
Van’s role as an artist, while quieter than her commercial ego, is still a recognizable one. She’s constantly doing work with other artists, particularly models and photographers. She’s done makeup for photography exhibitions at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and University of California – Davis. And for those who can call a pageant a beauty spectacle or performance involving multi-media, Van’s always sought for those events as well. Maybe you can be the next one to be a time-based art piece of Van Pham.

To see more of her work, here is her website:

She’s currently involved with Miss San Francisco, Miss Asia Sacramento, and Miss Asia America, just to name a few.
Ellice Park

“English Only” is a political movement aimed at establishing English as the only permissible language allowed in use of all government legislation, communications, forms, and actions.  The movement’s overarching goal is to set English as the United State’s official language, not necessarily eliminating the use of “foreign” languages but definitely undermining them.

The most recent event related to English Only took place in Nashville, Tennessee.  The amendment put forward by English Only advocates was voted against on January 22nd, 2009. Fortunately, the proposal was denied.  The proposed charter amendment 1 and 2 basically read: no person shall have a right to government services in any other language other than English. Over 40,000 voters were against ratification of the amendment while about 30,000 voters were for the amendment.

I am particularly bias against this event because it greatly affects me as an immigrant who is still making a place for myself in the United States. When I first got off the flight at Dulles Airport from Korea six years ago, I felt like I needed to change my clothes, not because they were dirty or anything but because I felt like I needed to prepare in becoming a new person. The flight was thirteen hours long, I was tired but pleased to feel a sense of nostalgia of the only other trip I made to America eleven years ago.  Of course that time I came as a tourist visiting family, this time I came as an immigrant.  There was a strange intermingling of the tasty, buttery sensation of America I remembered feeling as ten-year-old girl and the new anxiety and gathering of strength I was feeling as an immigrant.  When I landed at J.F.K airport back in the summer of 1992, I saw popcorn and delighted in its smell.  Eleven years later at Dulles, I could smell the popcorn again.  I knew things were completely different now, to start off with I was in an entirely different airport. Yet I kept going back to the same feelings I felt as a kid, as a tourist, full of giddy delusions of America.  It wasn’t until I remember that I wasn’t going back that it hit me. I booked a one-way ticket, not round-trip that summer in 2003.

Six years later, I became a naturalized citizen of the United States.  I pledged an oath of allegiance and denounced any loyalties to South Korea. I had a new motherland now. For the ceremony, speaking the oath of allegiance in English was worthwhile. It bound me with the other naturalizing citizens in the ceremony with me. But I knew that these English words were probably just as hollow, if not more, to many of these new citizens.  If there was any real oath to be pledged, it would be said in our mother tongues.  Even though the English Only proposition is limited to the communications and actions of government, it sounds, to me, like the first comers bossing around new comers. Learn or Leave despite the nature of the United States, the diversity, which should be celebrated not delineated. The citizens of the United States are all from different countries and should be respectful for the freedom being sought for by all who come.

If advocators for the English Only movement are concerned with immigrants adopting English and assimilating then they should advocate further support for government interpreters and foreign language programs because being in the dark helps no one.  If being able to communicate is the issue then the communication must come from both sides.  One can’t be expected to understand if no one, especially the government, doesn’t lend a helping hand.  Immigrants know more than enough about the saying “When in Rome do as Romans do”. We all know that English is the assumed “official” language of the United States. But this doesn’t need to be enforced and shoved in people’s faces, if it’s going to be English Anything than how about English First.

Immigrants always make the present progressive. They are learning English from the past to the future constantly with willingness and desire to settle down in this country and being hopeful for a better life.  Assimilation is a process. As each generation makes the progress, it will be naturally resolved into a new society. No law can speed it up. Lawful enforcement is merely imposing an artificial language barrier. It rather causes helpless immigrants and incurs marginalized immigrants coming from non-English speaking countries. Speaking English shouldn’t be a privilege or a struggle or a prerequisite or a burden.  It shouldn’t be a statement like “Learn or Leave.”  It’s a process of patience.  Children of immigrants clearly pick up English perfectly without their parent’s language being beaten out of them.  To many of us, ABC is not as easy as one, two, three.  Those of use who have the privilege of speaking English shouldn’t expect it to come so quickly to others, and we most definitely shouldn’t expect others to just drop their first-language just because “In America we speak American.”  Language is a huge part of our identities, and foreign languages should be shared as gifts, like wise, English should be shared not enforced.

Jae Lee, MICA BFA ’09

The modern concept of ending a marriage out of the mutual wishes of both husband and wife was unheard of in China until 1922, when the first Western-style divorce occurred between a woman named Chang Yu-i and the famous poet Hsu Chih-mo. Before that, when a marriage ended, the husband always left the wife for one or more reasons, called the Qi Chu (七出), the “Seven Outs”:

  1. She disobeyed his parents
  2. She could not bear him sons
  3. She committed adultery
  4. She acted jealous and was unwilling to take in a concubine
  5. She were repulsively sick
  6. She talked too much
  7. She committed theft

The wife became so disgraced afterwards that her only options were prostitution, nunnery, or suicide. The first Western divorce caused by lack of love was so scandalous that it remained a popular topic of gossip for years. Chang Yu-i never discussed the matter with her parents, and they never directly acknowledged it. Even to their deaths, they retained this shame-induced silence.

Until the past few years, failure of marriage was still regarded with shame in China; increasing Westernization of the country has alleviated traditional expectations for marriage, and the divorce rate now stands at about 21% (still less than half of what it is in the U.S.). Divorce and separation continue, however, to go unacknowledged by people with more traditional values – people such as my family.

My parents have been separated now for about eight years, but we have never discussed this with each other, much less our extended family. My grandparents don’t even know – they just assume my parents are still living under the same roof. I wrote the following piece in an effort to understand what my family refuses to discuss, and deal with the ever increasing disconnect from my father that resulted from the separation.


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“This is natural enough, as the picture lives only through the man who is looking at it.” This is a quote from Pablo Picasso who created a revolution to the world. He may be inspirational but more importantly he is my mentor. When I was raised in S. Korea, many people criticized Picasso for his overrated artist who created works of art which anyone possibly could create. It was hard to believe Picasso’s essence of art because people rather visualize his work than picturing the idea behind it. By profoundly studying his experiences, paintings, and philosophy, he allowed me to open my visionary mind of art which helped me to escape from my restricted cultural background.
Before I discuss about my cultural identity, I want to share my personal meaning of art. I believe the essence and the definition of art is “emotion.” In our today’s perspective of art, everything we see today such as nature, buildings, clothes, and even a piece of an empty water bottle is defined as art. This is due to the affection of the emotion. Emotion causes a physical object to become a subjective idea. Without the emotion, an object such as an empty water bottle is what it is. The water bottle can be defined as a thin layer of plastic material usually formed in cylinder shape. If the emotion invades the logic, it can be defined as soulless that have lost hope in its existence. The subjective meaning can vary by persons by their emotion and causes diverse aesthetic tastes. By their nature of emotion, people choose their personal path which can lead to many different lives. This obviously happens when creating a piece of work. Their decisions to plan and make is the cause of emotion and the outcome of the work is the outcome of the emotion. When the viewer reads the painting,  it triggers the emotion to react in personal ways. The emotion paints the visualization and the visualization paints the emotion. The work of art is not only viewed as the degree of technique but also as an emotional response. However the view of technique can be affected by the emotion but the purpose of work of art is how the viewer’s emotion responds to artist’s emotion that is hidden behind the work. This is my purpose of art. A work of art lives only through the viewer and every life and objects is made to that purpose. People who create works of art do not define them as an only artist but anyone being able to personally interpret the work of art defines them as an artist. Many students in S. Korea have well-built techniques, but lack in ideal and personal interpretation of art. This is one of the problems my culture is facing and this will continue on for future generations due to their strict mind set as well as the fixed art system in S. Korean Art community. These students are potential and ambitious but did not acknowledge to understand the hidden world of art. They considered “excellent techniques” as “good art” and it is true for every artist to consider. However innovations and revolutions does not come from technical elements, but from extensive explorations. Picasso was an excellent technical artist, but his success came from his ideal vision. He traveled beyond the boundaries of visual restrictions and found the treasures of new ideas that have opened up the new visions to the world. This is the element my culture has forgotten and people from all over the world including, Artists, professors, students are traveling to S. Korea and other foreign countries to take action against this problematic condition. This is one of the valuable understanding every artist should be aware of and should take action toward their culture. I as an MICA student, as well as an important individual Artist, will take this opportunity as a chance to bring new idea of art to S. Korea, including countries where they lack the appreciation of true nature of art. Picasso was successful because he has worked toward the subjective idea and his task of bringing new idea to the world. Before you wonder off, ask yourself, what is “your” definition of Art?

by Albert Young-Chan Kim

1st Year Undergraduate at Maryland Institute College of Art

Student Artist and Microcosm member

Ever since I immigrated to America in the year 2000, I have celebrated Korean thanksgiving with my family annually. We would have most of our families gathered at our house, eating Songpyeon (rice cake with different kinds of sweet fillings that is steamed on pine needles), fish, Ttuk (rice cake), japchae (noodles), etc. At the end of the day, we would have a bow ritual to our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, to show gratefulness and appreciation for all of their hard work. In return, us children would get little sums of money.

When I first entered elementary school in 2001, I remember the school teaching me about American Thanksgiving. Knowing very little English, I couldn’t grasp the concept right away. It just fascinated me because the school was covered with pictures of turkeys, pumpkins, and orange decorations. I went back home to my mother asking her, “What is thanksgiving?” She answered, “It’s just like Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving).” Historically, Chuseok is thought to be originated 2000 years ago where Sila King, Euri, organized a weaving contest to help the weaving industry grow. The losers of the contests had to prepare foods for the winners. As the time went on, Chuseok came in to shape where Koreans celebrated for 3 days long. Family gathering became very important in Chuseok. As I got older and started to attend middle school, the American thanksgiving became clearer.

It was interesting to see that during one thanksgiving, my mother actually adopted the idea of cooking a Turkey during with the traditional Korean thanksgiving meal. I have no idea if that was because she thought I became more “American” or if she wanted to combine the two cultures together, trying to teach me how to be a Korean and an American.

However, now that I came to MICA, I was celebrating only the American thanksgiving. It was awkward. Turkey, mash potatoes and gravy–foods that I felt unfamiliar with for a thanksgiving dinner. This shift of culture sort of confused me. Living half of my life in both countries, there was no clear identity that I fit in. When I was with my family, I celebrated Korean thanksgiving.  When I was with my friends, I celebrated American Thanksgiving. Now being away from home for the past two thanksgivings, it would be very awkward to go back home and celebrate the traditional thanksgiving. Somehow the turning over of a leaf has evolved into a large change.

Nevertheless, the confusion clarified as I turned 20 this year. I have concluded that it is not important which tradition I celebrate, as long as I remember my Korean origin, and appreciate both cultures. Even though food, customs, traditions, and origination were different, I think the thanksgiving in both cultures shared a common concept of gratefulness. Both countries brings families and communities together to prepare and share delicious food, honor their ancestors/respective deities and appreciate all of the family members for being one another’s their daily lives.

by Angela Ahn,


MICA BFA Candidate 2012

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We’re Artists meeting and talking with other Artists. Our interest is the Asian diaspora, and its farflung influences–and on the other hand, how Asian Culture and Arts have been influenced by the inter-culturalistic points its met in its travels. Tune in on Sundays for Microcosm’s regular goodness, and throughout the week for special surprises.
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