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Interview


ART VS. INJUSTICE:
CATCHING UP WITH ALBERT NGUYEN


Art director and graphic designer Albert Nguyen on his contribution to the Sticky Rice pagoda fundraiser, the creative process, and everything in between.



By Courtney Baird-Lew
Photos by Yang Shi
October 7th, 2020






The phrase “all art is political” has been adopted - and refuted - by many. It’s a line that gets increasingly blurred by clients, budgets, briefs, timelines, invoices, and deliverables. One thing is clear, however: the creator, when non-white, is inherently political. The sheer act of working within a system designed for someone other than you carries a palpable tension; a strain that’s further intensified in times of social struggle.


Cue Albert Nguyen: an art director and graphic designer who, in quarantine, designed a benefit t-shirt in partnership with Montreal Thai restaurant, Pumpui, that raised funds for Sticky Rice’s Vietnamese pagoda fundraiser. Benefiting the Chùa Quan Âm pagoda, whose statues were vandalized during the first few weeks of the pandemic, Nguyen emblazoned the words “The Longest Sunday Ever” on the front: speaking to the current moment and its sluggish uncertainty.


Born and raised in Montreal, with time spent living in Ottawa (where he first learned to speak English), Nguyen is someone unafraid of speaking his mind—to point out the gaping holes in our social fabric and ask: why? With this in mind, we invited him to answer a couple of our questions regarding his contribution to the fundraiser, the creative process, and everything in between.



Albert’s family album.

  All styling by Albert’s aunts.


Q: When (or where) did you first realize that you were creative?

Creativity came to me at a very early age. I have been obsessed with drawing since I was very young. I thank my grandfather for that part of me, he was a great artist. I’d always ask him to draw for me. He-Man was the drawing I requested every time. I was obsessed with my grandfather and still am today. Art had always been in my life in one way or another even when I wasn’t drawing for a long period. Everything I loved had imagination and creativity to it like style and fashion. Creativity is something that surrounds every aspect of my life: to the way I love, to the way I cook, to the way I dress.


Q: How would you describe your design style?

It’s really hard to pinpoint my style, but if I had to I would have to say it’s a mish-mash. My style is really typography based and I like to mix typefaces a lot. I always like to have a little bit of humour in my work. It’s an amalgamation of all the things that have inspired me in my life - not just only art but also my life events and travels. It’s important to use all of that to make meaningful work and create an authentic narrative.


All illustrations by Albert.
The notorious wall of sticky notes.



Q: When and where do you feel the most creative?

Feeling creative can hit me absolutely anywhere. And the timeframe when I’m creative is large. I always like to leave a big window and space so I can work freely either at 9 am or 1 am. But I’m one of those creatives who can only work for short spurts and I need time to recharge.


Q: What (or who) are your sources of inspiration, Asian, or otherwise?

Inspiration for me comes from all over. I don’t believe that it only comes from design or our industries. Inspiration is something that comes with a full, well-rounded life. I get inspired by my travels, my friend’s travels, the food we cook, the conversations we have with our loved, and not-so-loved ones. It’s a combination of all those things. I truly believe there’s a take away in every situation, even if it seems banal or irrelevant to the work we’re doing. Inspiration is everywhere.
“There were a lot of stories revolving around attacks on Asians due to COVID all over the world but there was a story that hit really close to home; Chùa Quan Âm. This broke my heart to hear that sort of thing could happen in our hometown, but there are ignorant people everywhere.”



Q: When did the idea for a benefit t-shirt with Pumpui first come about?

We were a few weeks into quarantine, Pumpui had already started their fundraiser for the COVID Relief Fund for Frontline Workers with Mathieu Dionne. So Jesse Massumi asked me to design a tee and pick a charity of my choice. At this point, there were a lot of stories revolving around attacks on Asians due to COVID all over the world but there was a story that hit really close to home; Chùa Quan Âm. This broke my heart to hear that sort of thing could happen in our hometown, but there are ignorant people
everywhere.



T-shirt design for Pumpui by Albert Nguyen.


Q: What made you choose Sticky Rice’s Chùa Quan Âm fundraiser as your benefit of choice?

After seeing Stick Rice Magazine have their own fundraisers, we decided to not only put the “Longest Sunday Ever” tee, we wanted to offer the entire Pumpui FW19 merchandise I designed for them before COVID because of its success during the first run. Giving the money to Sticky Rice was a no brainer for us.


Q: In what ways have the last 5 months of this pandemic affected you or your work?

It’s needless to say that work has slowed down for many people in various industries, but what it taught me is to take things slow, to have a bit more purpose in my work. Thanks to Pumpui, I was able to help people with my designs and not just work solely for money. It taught me to help others as much as I can, voicing my opinions against injustices in the world, especially against Asians and BIPOC. Our voices have been silenced and dismissed for a long time.








Q: Your ‘MY DUDES’ post during the recent wave of denunciations of sexual misconduct within Quebec has over 2,700 likes and 60 comments. Did you expect this kind of reaction?

To be honest, no. After a few days of reading these women’s stories, it made me think about all the women whom I love in my life who have been abused. I couldn’t sit there anymore without saying anything. It’s not normal to hear women tell stories of inappropriate speech, groping, abuse, and rape. The problem is clearly with us “dudes”, it’s a problem that we have to solve ourselves. I compare it a lot to racism, how it is not a minority problem but a problem that whites have to solve within their own communities. I thank every woman who has opened up to me to share their stories thereafter. I’m sorry for your pain, I hear and see you. We will try and do better. We have to.

“Quebec had a very long run in innovative design and direction, but lately, I’ve been wondering: where are the new voices?”


Q: What changes do you think (or hope) are in store for creative industries, in Quebec and beyond, amid months of social and political upheaval?

The Quebec creative industry needs to change in a big way. It is extremely white. At times, I wonder where all the minorities are in the advertising agencies. Quebec had a very long run in innovative design and direction but lately, I’ve been wondering: where are the new voices? Are there no Black designers? No Asians who can give a different perspective that these companies or brands need? The same stories and narratives are being told and designed over and over. I think it’s because of the lack of diversity.


Q: On a lighter note: what would be your dream gig?

My dream gig would be either leading the direction for a brand I respect or growing my own business into something I can wake up to every day.


Q: What designers, Asian or otherwise, should we keep our eyes on?

My favourite creatives at the moment are Lian Benoit, Tam Vu, Richmond Lam, and the entire Asiancy. They are all so inspiring and it motivates me to push things further along not just in design but in every aspect of my life.


Q: What’s next for you, personally and professionally?

Honestly, I can’t tell you. Lately, I’ve been getting into a mindset of just letting my life move along without planning too much. Although there is one thing for sure, I will keep raising my voice for our Asian people and BIPOC communities. On another note, I want to help more kids in urban areas who grew up like me. Besides working, I want to have a bigger purpose in my life and help others where I can.






Albert’s personal sneaker collection.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Courtney Baird-Lew is a writer and lifestyle editor at Sticky Rice Magazine. Born and raised in Montréal, she believes in the power of great storytelling and a well-crafted sentence.








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