A group of three women look to challenge stereotypes and improve representation in the fairytale and fantasy space
Asian representation has been lacking for a long time. Growing up in the London suburbs, I would cling onto any heroes that I could find of my ethnic heritage, including characters such as the Yellow Ranger from the Power Rangers TV show and Mulan from the Disney film. Now, I am excited and emboldened by recent releases, including Crazy Rich Asians and Shadow and Bone (featuring Jessica Mei Li as lead character), and the announcement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first title character of Asian descent, Shang Chi. As Asians struggle with a landscape of COVID-19 fuelled prejudice, the onset of damaging stereotypes and Cold War-like rhetoric, telling our own stories and standing proud of our heritage is more important than ever.
Alongside Bella Kotak and Lillian Liu, both phenomenal and multi-faceted creators, I felt I wanted to contribute to the narrative of our shared collective consciousness as Asians. So, we tapped into a realm we adore and thrive in, the world of make believe and fantasy, embarking on a project known as “Enchanted Asian Day”. We were inspired by the movement known as Black Fae Day which celebrates black fairytale and fantasy creators, which has helped revolutionise people’s attitudes and empowerment in this space.
From now on, every second Saturday of June of each year, we invite Asian creatives in the fairytale and fantasy community to use the hashtag #EnchantedAsianDay to share their pieces and allies to repost and celebrate Asian creators. To qualify, one of the main contributors of such creation should be of Asian descent, and Asian in this context means anyone with descent from the Asian continent. We held our first ever online event on 12 June this year. We were overwhelmed with the amount of mind-blowing entries and the enthusiasm of the communities involved!
I am delighted to take this opportunity as a contributor to Resonate to interview my co-founders Bella (BK) and Lillian (LL) and the reasons why this initiative means so much to each of us.
Yinsey Wang (YW): What were your motivations to start Enchanted Asian Day (EAD)?
BK: We wanted to contribute to the positive movement of embracing diversity in our creative photography genre. All three of us are of Asian heritage and felt that this could be a space that we could give Asian voices and stories a chance to be featured and accessible to a larger audience.
LL: I wanted to be involved with EAD because the reality of seeing yourself represented positively and respectfully in media is powerful. Since fantasy is escapism and a platform for the creation of new worlds and cultures (with so many fans and enthusiasts around the world), there can often be a sense of disconnect when you rarely see someone with your own features and background embedded or rooted into these incredible adventures.
Fantasy takes its roots from myth and there is so much potential to be explored worldwide, and so much wonder to be discovered from sources beyond what we are already familiar with. I think it is important to increase visibility for Asian creators and these unique perspectives, especially since we often feel invisible or left out of the conversation.
YW: Why do you think representation is so important?
BK: Growing up consuming predominantly Western media, books, TV, movies, etc., all of the main characters weren’t any that I could visually connect with, who shared my skin tone, who were from my culture or who told stories that we both shared. It made me feel as though certain opportunities were just not for me, or that my stories held no value. This is what lack of representation does, it highlights some stories while undervaluing others, it is divisive.
It’s only through representation that we can finally share all stories, which in turn reminds us of how similar we all are as a human species. Representation to me means one step towards acceptance and a greater peace.
LL: Representation is important because it helps create connection and understanding between different groups through offering contrasting perspectives and viewpoints for others. People really resonate with art, beauty, and compelling storytelling; these mediums are incredible methods of bridging individuals, creating understanding, and introducing new ideas. It helps everyone appreciate their global community, and also helps us celebrate our own.
YW: What do you value about the fairytale and fantasy space? What inspires you to create?
BK: I value the whimsy, the playfulness, and the imaginative energy of the fairytale and fantasy genre. It inspires me to be a child again and to reconnect with that part of myself, a part that we all have within us in some form or other. It allows me to keep my childhood alive a little longer.
Within this space I can create, explore ideas, and experiment and through social media, bring others along with me on the journey!
LL: The fantasy and fairytale space is so vital, mostly because it caters to our inner child forever. Carrying our inner child throughout life and always seeing the world with its hidden magic helps keep the spark of imagination alive… and with our inner child, comes many important gifts: curiosity, innocence, empathy, softness, and the ability to grow.
I love this space because it allows me to make worlds and characters that people could step into with their own creativity and carry with them.
YW: How has creativity changed how you see the world?
BK: It’s connected me to nature in a way I never have before. As someone whose work is predominantly location-based I now pay attention to the seasons, learn what flowers bloom best when and where, and how sometimes magic can be created in the most ordinary of places. I love creating stories along the roadside or in public parks. For a few minutes, it’s almost like creating an art installation which I then immortalise forever through photography.
LL: Creativity has made me realise time and time again that art is the heartbeat of society. Writing, visual artistry, music. All of these act as totems and pillars, and are incredible ways to open doors and conversations.
Once you create a piece, it is out there in the world, and its meaning carries on beyond your own ego.
YW: Favourite fairytale and why?
BK: When I was younger it was “The Little Mermaid” (mainly because she lived in another world unbound by gravity) but as I’ve gotten older, I don’t really have a fairytale that I connect with anymore. I’m over the trope of dashing princes rescuing damsels in distress, women, as we know, are way more powerful, smarter, and capable than how they are portrayed in fairytales and often mainstream media too.
So, no favourite fairytale for me, but that’s why I love creating my own tales of strong female characters and inviting my audience to dream and imagine their own stories.
LL: I love so many! I think a classic one I’ve always liked has been “The Ugly Duckling,” not only because of the fact that I liked birds as a kid, but because it covers ideas of rejection, being different from convention and wishing you could fit in and look like someone else, the gradual acceptance of who you are and your own innate beauty, and the idea that that everyone has a place in this world. I’ve always found the “Princess and the Pea” to be a little silly, that one is my least favourite!
YW: Inner enchanted alter ego (i.e. what fantasy or fairytale character are you?)?
BK: I really love Crysta from Ferngully! A cute and feisty little fairy living in a rainforest able to grow it back to life with her determination and inner magic.
LL: As much as I would love to be something epic and cool, I think realistically, I’m probably a hobbit, sitting around with my pie and piping hot tea! With my current fitness level, I would simply pass away on any quest on day two at the most…
YW: How have you found the reaction to EAD and what are your hopes for next year?
BK: It was so inspiring to see how many creatives from not just photography but other creative genres got involved!
Stories from all over Asia were shared and the best thing was that we all discovered so many talented Asian artists from around the world!
I think next year it will be even bigger since our Instagram is now active. My hopes are to get more creatives involved and to really use this as an opportunity to inspire change in not just the creative field but other fields where Asian voices are under-represented too.
LL: I’ve been extremely moved by the response to EAD this year, and did not expect the warm community, especially since it was something new! This is so encouraging, and we can only hope to take EAD further each year, by offering helpful portfolio opportunities for Asian creators and getting more eyes on the movement beforehand!
Bella Kotak is a fine art, fashion and portrait photographer based in Oxford and London, England. An art lover from a young age she always knew that she would work within the creative industry. Born from a drive to escape a mundane reality, Bella’s pictures are inspired by fairytales, strong feminine characters, and the ever-changing natural landscape. Through her art, Bella strives to lift the veil of the overlooked and reminds us that there is magic in the most ordinary of spaces.
She is an ambassador for Phase One, SmugMug, Vanguard, and Canson Infinity. Bella is also a CreativeLive instructor and the founder of The Color Lab, a Photoshop colour toning company.
Lillian Liu is an award-winning and published creative photographer who utilises digital techniques to create unique atmospheres in her work. She is a part of the humanitarian artistic collective Free Spirit, headquartered in Paris, as of 2016.
Lillian is an ambassador for lighting company Lumecube. When not shooting, Lillian holds a Masters from the Royal College of Music and is a pianist and teacher.