Strategies of Self-actualization
Ths episode features Jazmin Jones and Lumi Tan, two people who continue to inspire us in the work that they do. Jazmin is a member of BUFU and Lumy is the Director at the Kitchen. This conversation introduces us to their concepts of self-fulfillment, individual potential, and personal achievement.
Jazmin: Hello, I’m Jazmin. I’m a freelance photographer and filmmaker and I’m also recently a full time collective member with the collective BUFU. We started 2 years ago as a group of black and Asian friends with the interest in making this multimedia project that would unpack the shared interest, oppression, struggle, conflict between black and Asian folks. Since then we’ve done filming in Korea, Japan, Ethiopia, Jamaica, just recently we got back from China. In addition to this weird illeibal webseries thing we also do engaged programming that maybe some of you have had the opportunity to check out. We do a month long model, so 2 years ago we did programming at a warehouse space in Clinton Hill for a month, then this last summer in July we did programming in each borough of New York. I think we did something like 80 programs in a month which is a lot. And even though we started out with this mission of exploring black and Asian cultural and political relationships we've kind of since expanded our mission to just focus on building solidarity between people of color. It's this very weird project that most people don’t understand the first time we say it, but if you come participate in it it starts to make a lot of sense. Why am I here? It's funny because I was saying to June that had this been a panel on representation I would completely know where I fit into it but this is actually the first time I’ve heard myself referred to as self actualized so I've been really chewing in what that means, I have a lot of thoughts which we will get into.
Lumi: My name is Lumi Tan, thanks so much for having me, I’m really excited to be here. I’m a curator at a space called The Kitchen which is in Chelsea. We have been around for 45 years and we present art in all disciplines I curate exhibitions in a gallery, I produce theater, music, dance, performance, literature talks, film screenings in a theater and everything in between. It's really important for me to work particularly with women of color and with artists of all different generations in all those disciplines as well. I agree with Jasmin, I didn't not think of myself as self actualized until this invitation so I’m excited to dive into this conversation.
June: Yeah I think we don't think about ourselves as self actualized and I think what's important for us to talk about today is the theory behind our motivations. Essentially that is what self actualization is, how we consciously move about the world and make our dreams come true. First and foremost we have to acknowledge, for me anyway, I’m sitting here in a place of privilege. I have shelter, I have food, I have love, I have support, and once you have those things you can begin to start actualizing your dreams in a way. I’m interested first and foremost how you came into the concept of self actualization and we can start to build a conversation around that, so Jazmin?
Jazmin: I think it's really important that you touched in privilege entering this conversation. I've been thinking the past few weeks since this invitation about what self actualization looks like to me, I’ve been thinking like y’all refer to me as self actualized and if feel like a douchebag to walk around like i have all the keys to inner happiness and success and equanimity. And I've been trying to unpack where this comes from and for me if we're gonna talk about privilege and stuff, so i
I'm biracial, my mother is white and my father is black, and I grew up super middle class in a way that doesn't seem possible anymore. When my parents got a divorce i was able to see they were coming both from lower class backgrounds got to the middle class together and then at the point of their divorce i saw the different possibilities that were opening up for these people coming from a similar place, and so my mother, the white parent, went on to go into real estate and was really financially successful and living her best life and my father following the financial crisis went into bankruptcy and my mother actually had to help him short sale his house. So thinkin about their different approaches and currently now when I go home to see my family, I just went home for Thanksgiving, my mom is like yeah she has a really nice house and she's able to think about her wellbeing spiritually and get massages and self care is built into her existence and it feels right. So it's like a blessing and a curse to be raised by a white mother because you get to experience some of the entitlement of a white woman. And then seeing my father where he’s very much socialized as a black man and the idea of working to support your family and he wasn't as familiar with concepts of investing and multiplying his wealth just like even housing for him is something he struggles with even though he has two business with positive cash flows. So both my parents are entrepreneurs and they've ended up in wildly different positions. And coming from a really colorblind background that’s like “We’re in a melting pot!” And now as an adult it's like oh shit, was it possible for them to succeed at the same level given the different advantages that they had, was it possible for their marriage to succeed? So i'm thinking a lot about my choices on a personal level like I wanna be living my best life like my white mom but I also want folks like my black dad to have that. So yeah I think thats my driving force, figuring out like, I think everybody should be entitled to the niceties but also we’re not. So that's what's motivating me currently to get my personal shit in check and also work with my folks and community.
Lumi: Yeah I think it’s interesting when I was thinking about this panel, like strategies for self actualization, I actually don't like im the least strategic person out there. I'm just kinda like very intuitive and moving around the world, like im really bad at this thing but I’m gonna keep doing it until I feel ok with it, like public speaking is something i actually hated doing. I grew up, I’m first generation Vietnamese and I grew up in a ery white suburban upbringing and I remember my college essay was about how I didn't understand that I wasn't white for a really really long time. I’d be like “I’m the only white person…” wait why would I ever say that? My family was always about assimilation just like don’t ever acknowledge that there was any difference between you and anyone else in the room. So I think once I recognized it was fine, great to be different i just started to move through the world in that way. The art world is supposed to be this place for misfits, people who don't fit in. And then you get there and it's like this is just like high school. All these cliques and all this privilege and you're navigating these same types of horrible social situations that you were in before so I didn't have any real strategies in that way i was just pushing forward, my line has been “I’m gonna be the best cog in the system until I can make a difference.” Like that's what I’m constantly trying to remind myself like you’re in the system, you've gotten to this place so you can help other people that couldn't push forward in this way.
June: I think about, I’m trying to make a list of all of the things, the second I feel lost whether its five minutes or an hour or a few weeks, I’m trying currently to make a list of all of the things that I need in order to feel actualized because that's I think at the center of the conversation, how you actually feel. I’m interested to hear if you can just off the top of your head just like tick off all the things that you need in order to feel that way, to feel like you’re reaching our maximum potential. Just day to day basics.
Jazmin: I’m so ready for this. So I just turned 27 which means im halfway through my saturn return and it feels good! And I think I really recognize how important ritual is to me, daily ritual. I have a lot of practices that you can find on mom pinterest boards. I ertir my daily affirmations, i water my plants, I drink something warm, I make my bed. I have daily things that I do to make myself feel good and then start my day. It’s like really basic self help stuff that you can find with a simple google search but its effective.
Lumi: I think one thing that's interesting that i'm trying to do right now is resisting acculturation so like resisting constantly. Resisting being swayed by outside forces.
June: Could you talk a little bit about that? How do you resist being persuaded by other people’s notions, cultural notions, things that are projected onto you?
Lumi: Just on a purely professional level, cuz that does extend to everything else I do in life, just recognizing the expectations that are presented to you as normal in daily life are actually tools of white supremacy. Like paternalism, false urgency, false objectivity, all those things. Just kind of identifying every single point in which that happens and trying to do really simple things like slowing down, it's not like I feel like I’m actively resisting those things but just identifying that in my daily life in every interaction has made a huge difference for me.
Jazmin: Yeah I ve been thinking about that in terms of the workspace so seriously. Like the most i can do is being conscious of when I'm playing into the projected gender roles. Like when I’m putting other people above myself, when im shutting down if someone speaks over me, when I'm just accommodating every single person except for myself, when I’m not listening to my own needs. Being conscious of when I just served somebody food and I didnt have to do that.
Lumi: Well I honestly feel like I learned so much from just like, I’m 36 I’m not that old, but I learn so much from the younger artists that I work with. Like I went through all those different levels, I was an intern forever and worked three jobs to make that work because I was like I need to be accepted by this very specific environment of all white museum staff. I had to subscribe to the idea that the only type of intellectualism was French philosophy that came from a very specific type of education. Getting to this point where I'm’ at an institution that does support different ways of thinking, and it's still a challenge on a daily basis, I'm the only person of color on the staff of a historically progressive institution, so i really have learned so much from the younger artists that I’ve worked with that have really unsubscribed from those structures, like if someone is like “Who are the theorists who have inspired you?” And they are like “None, I’m inspired by the people that I talk to in my daily life and my community.” That makes me so happy that we can work together, hopefully impact the larger art world in this way.
June: How do you take back all of these learnings to my mom? How do I take this sense of self, this sense of awareness to my mother so she can have some of it too?
Lumi: We were just talking before about our parents who do not believe in therapy or self care, really that survival resilience. My parents just recently moved to New Jersey so I see them all the time now and I've been taking my mom out almost every weekend. I've been taking her to every gallery and museum I go to because she never had the opportunity to have her own life in that way. Her and my dad are still married and happy to be together but he had a very traditional sense of what his wife should be doing. She was at home and taking care of the kids, my mom got married when she was 20 and just spent her whole life focused on me and my sister so now that we have the chance to take care of her i'm like you can get on the subway and go do these things that you are really interested in and she’s like “Ok.” we’re getting there.
June: I was gonna ask like that makes me think how do you define independence?
Jazmin: I feel the most independent that I ever have, having financial support for the work that were doing and thats wild and i think it's so important that you keep coming back to having these basic needs. And being able to entertain this question of self actualization requires a certain degree of privilege. Like when you were talking about hanging out with your mom I was thinking about how when we were traveling with BUFU and we were in Korea I got to go to my first Korean spa but I could have gone to that at any time living in New York but it was really going with folks who cared about me and could walk me through that experience and I was like holy shit this is beautiful! And what would it mean if black folks had a space where we could get together and be in our bodies and do all of these things that are really revitalizing for our bodies and setting aside a space for cafe, for community, seeing entire families go spend a weekend at the spanthat blew my mind. Then I got to check out the spa in Jersey and I didn’t see some black folks doing that and I was like dope! And it’s not like the spa is not accessible to black folks, well it is inaccessible in theory anyone can go and take the little shuttle, anyone should go you take the little shuttle they pick you up in Times Square, it’s free you get a groupon you stay overnight it’s beautiful, go to the Jimjabong y’all, King Spa shout out, but it's really having someone take you there and being like this is ok, what you’re doing is ok, this is how it works, do what you want. And that’s why I’m really invested in the kind of work that BUFU is trying to do with our programing too because it's one thing to make this film and people can watch it and choose to engage at a distance but it's another thing to really implicate people in the conversation and really walk them through it and ask them to come from a vulnerable place of their identity and personal experiences and try new shit in community that’s loving and beautiful, and unpack the hard stuff too. That’s independence, I don’t know what independence is [laughs].
June: Yeah it's beautiful that you turned it back onto how you’re serving other people. I think that's extremely important, that's important to my own sense of independence, is how I serve others who don't have access like I do to some things.
Lumi: Yeah that’s a really good question. Thats a hard question to answer.
June: Right now in this moment lets strip it down to this week. What does independence mean to you this week?
Lumi: What happened this week?
June: Moving into next week, what will it look like for you to be independent next week?
Lumi: Well now I’m trying to think of the flip side like what things do I feel dependent on, but then I guess I don't feel dependent on that much other than my paycheck which is a big deal obviously. But in terms of, I think that's just trying to think about what I need. What are the things that I need to feel independent? Yeah I’m healthy, I can move around in the city and not feel endangered that's kind of as much as I can ask for on a daily basis. And now I’m having a really hard time thinking about this.
June: Maybe it sounds like we need to pick it up on independence for next panel. Does anyone have anything to add?
Lumi: Yeah I think that’s just a huge question for the art world in general which you know probably doesn’t judge itself as a progressive place and you look at the staffs of almost any institution like we have, because the Kitchen was started as an alternative space by artists, we have these peer groups in NY that all started in the 70s and we are thought of as the alternative spaces. And you o to these meetings of the leadership of these spaces and they are all white men, itms insane. So I think that I’m unfortunately so accustomed to working in these spaces at this point. But just you have to keep everyone in check all the time. We can have this incredible history of really cultural diverse programing but understand that the downton avante garde scene is a very white scene historically. You look at the schedule coming up and I’m like, “Did anyone else notice it’s all men for the next six months?” not six months it wasn't that bad, like three months or something and everyone was like “Huh I didn’t notice that.” I was like really? This is insane. So it can feel like a huge burden all the time to be that person that’s like, that has to be at the forefront of your mind as a woman of color curator. But it's also like an incredible responsibility to be that person and I think that as my position in the art world has grown I’m honestly just really interested in engaging with people who don't want to make change in that way, and working with institutions, curators, artists that dont wanna make that change. So it's like even though I am the only person of color on the staff at least everyone is willing to listen to me and really take my criticisms and my input seriously in this way and work to make things better.
Jazmin: I think you mentioned something about keeping people in check and that's a really big responsibility. I think where I find the confidence to do that is by looking back at all of the women of color scholars that have come before us and listening to them as much as possible, reading them as much as possible, watching them on youtube videos. The second im preparing to give someone a schooling i'm like alright, google bell hooks, you know. I think really on a day to day tangible thing that I can do to find confidence to keep people in check and live up to that responsibility because it is a responsibility for the other people who have lower voices.
June: Does anyone else have anything to add?
Jazmin: Yeah exactly like I think for a lot of institutions it will be a trend unfortunately but I also think that if the really positive repercussions of the trump election in the art world is that, shows that were planned way before the election, thinking of We Want a Revolution, things like that, just the incredible positive response that has come from that. Museums understanding like “People actually do wanna see that” it's not just a responsive reactive trend, people are really needing to see other types of work being shown in order to participate in seeing art essentially. So I just hope that while it definitely feels really trendy I hope that all these men in these decision making positions can see their audience growing, see the positive critical reactions, see different types of people applying for these jobs that will all kind of work together. And we’ll have to see what happens but I think that it's really easy to be so skeptical of certain moves that have happened in the art world but I think that being one of the few poc curators there's always an element of self doubt of like tokenism when you get these invitations over and over again but I think what I’ve just been trying to do is come at it and represent myself, just make i difficult for people, not difficult in like being argumentative but just difficult in like, you can’t lin all of us down to one identity. We are all self actualized people, comfortable with different facets of ourselves. I always think about this friend Modin’s book named after a Lee Song quote but it’s like “Consent To Not Being A Single Being” and its like that is the most important way of thinking about yourself, multiple beings and representing that to a wider public that the art world doesn't usually pay attention to or address.
June: Alright, think we’re gonna cap it there. Thank you everyone.