Updated at 5:54 on 04/22/2021 to correct improper spelling of Zee Zelinkski’s name.
By: Hannah Irvin
As a disabled, nonbinary, adopted Korean-American artist, Zee Zelinksi has always had a unique perspective on life.
They have been writing poetry as long as they can remember and have been creating art since 2014. They said they had a “rough time in high school” and needed “an outlet bigger than writing, something that allowed [them] to see the intangible.” They turned to painting, setting up shop in their parents’ family room and getting to work.
Despite having no formal art training beyond some basic art classes in high school, Zelinski has created some incredible pieces, addressing issues like mental illness and racism.
When describing their creative process, they said, “It depends on the purpose of the piece, but it usually begins with a feeling. I tend to create pieces in response to events and things I am currently going through or observing.”
They continued to explain that they pick a medium after establishing that there’s enough emotional significance to warrant their time and energy. That medium is usually whichever is nearest to them at the moment in order to streamline the process. Sometimes they turn on music; sometimes they work in silence. It can take a few hours or a few days to get a piece just right.
When it comes to experiencing racism and addressing recent acts of violence through art, Zelinski describes their perspective as “zoomed in on one aspect of…grief” and sometimes unable to “see other…ways in which my identity intertwines with these stories…You can use big words and arguments to get your point across but it doesn’t help you to see the experience of being.”
They went on to say that making feelings out of ideas is less intimidating because they know how to turn feelings into lines, shapes, and color in “a way that makes sense.”
Art is a non-judgmental way to express oneself and Zelinksi describes that as “the biggest grace art allows.” They begin creation with an idea of what’s going on, but finish the piece with a much greater understanding.
As an Asian-American, specifically a Korean adoptee, Zelinski has come face-to-face with racism in their predominantly-white, southern-Arizona community and white household.
They explained the “absence of Asian culture” leads to an “erasure of…cultural identity and loss of….self.”
Growing up, the Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) population in their city was 0.003%, yet their proximity to whiteness never shielded them from prejudices and racism. Being in-between the two cultures allowed Zelinksi to analyze them both objectively, leading to questions about identity and belonging.
Stereotypes about Asians, particularly ones regarding submission and the model minority, lead to many Asian-Americans believing they are unwanted. Zelinski said, “When you grow up hearing that your voice does not matter, that your ethnicity, heritage, and race do not matter, to go back to where you came from, you eventually internalize that and silence your own voice.”
Despite these messages, Zelinski is fighting for the right to be heard and creating art that personifies the experiences of many Asian-Americans.
Citing contemporary, groundbreaking artists like Christine Sun Kim and Chella Man as inspiration, Zelinski continues to create art and look to the future. “I make art for myself, first and foremost,” they said. “But…I want to at least use my art as a force for good.”