‘Press play and keep going’: writers explore art’s healing power at Oakland Asian Cultural Center
on October 30, 2022
Writing saved Edward Gunawan’s life. And he hopes his story can help others.
His comic “Press Play,” on view at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center until Monday, draws from his own struggles with lifelong depression. The title refers to a triangle the main character touches on his wrist “to make all the swirl and whirl come to a standstill,” as well as restart.
On Saturday afternoon, Gunawan was in conversation with Bay Area poets Christine No and Michelle Lin for the exhibition’s final event. Sixty black-and-white panels from “Press Play,” illustrated by Gunawan’s brother Elbert Lim, lined the hallways outside the room where they discussed poetry and mental health to an intimate audience.
“A lot of my work is reckoning with myself. It’s a lot of feelings, and it’s a lot of questions,” No said. “I don’t think my work ever comes to any conclusions other than here I am and this is what it feels like.”
No read a handful of tender and fierce poems from her collection, “Whatever Love Means,” that brought forth her mother and grandmother. Lin followed with visceral poems from “A House Made of Water” that explore identity and trauma, and also shared newer poems about things that bring her joy, like llamas.
The audience snapped and clapped at lines that resonated with them most. Lines like Lin’s, “Give it up for me/Because I’m still capable of giving and giving up.”
Afterward, Gunawan moderated a conversation that touched upon a variety of themes including the writers’ responsibility to community and family, and the question of art as therapy.
In the Asian American community, anti-Asian violence during COVID-19 has compounded mental health challenges. But barriers such as the lack of culturally competent services, the pressure of being a “model minority,” and stigma prevent many from seeking help.
Both No and Lin said mental health wasn’t talked about much in their families and they started writing as a way to cope — No, as an angsty teenager scribbling on Korean calendars, and Lin journaling as a kid because she was lonely.
“Writing is therapeutic,” Lin said. “But I don’t think it replaces therapy in terms of professional help.”
All three writers said they are in a better place these days and acknowledged it’s been harder to write. They also hope the conversation around mental health continues, because it’s not just about getting words down on the page. It’s about holding space and holding each other.
“We chose to be artists and writers because there’s something porous about us that wants to connect,” No said.
In the hallway, “Press Play” viewers have been leaving notes of support: “It’s ok not to be okay!” and “You are not alone.”
The exhibition may be coming to a close, but the comic can be viewed online in six languages: Spanish, Thai, Indonesian, and three Chinese dialects.
“There are times when it feels too much, when we want to stop,” Gunawan said. “Hopefully, through this comic, people will be encouraged to press play and keep going.”
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