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San Diego artist reimagines Vietnamese beauty norms and the history behind it

 May 16, 2024 at 2:04 PM PDT

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on KPBS. Today's arts and culture show makes us rethink beauty standards , gives us mind blowing theatrics , and walks us through San Diego's spoken word scene. I'm Jade Hindman. Here's the conversations that keep you informed and inspired and make you think. An art exhibit explores what true beauty is within the AAPI community.

S2: That has been a very rewarding process to be able to heal myself through art and being able to use that as a medium to start conversations for the community.

S1: Then we'll preview this year's Fringe Festival and talk about San Diego's spoken word scene. That's ahead on Midday Edition. It's Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month , and we want to highlight artists who are innovating and starting important conversations in their communities. Linh Nguyen is one such artist , and her most recent exhibit. She reimagines Vietnamese beauty norms while also paying tribute to the history behind them. She joins me now. Lin , welcome to midday. Hi.

S3: Hi.

S1: Also with us is Brit Pham. They're also an artist and facilitate many events across San Diego. Brit , welcome.

S3: Hi , Jade.

S1: All right. So I want to talk about your artistic journey.

S2: So I would say that I've always been an artist all of my life. Um , growing up in Vietnam , you know , from my childhood. Art is the most affordable form of entertainment. You just need some pencil and pen. And I've always really loved that. Um , my dad is kind of an artist himself , so growing up , I've always surrounded with calligraphy arc all around my house. Um , but I couldn't see a path to become an artist in Vietnam. I don't see anybody around me is an artist , so it's really hard to be what you can't see. When I migrate to the US , I spend a lot of time assimilating , you know , working corporate job , doing what is safe , you know ? And I found myself become really unhappy and at some point lost my identity , lost my connection to my heritage and my Vietnamese side. So after I think ten , 11 years , I become quite mentally ill and take a break from that and really just wanted to get myself a chance at pursuing my own version of the American dreams and , and that kind of kickstart of , you know , me networking with a lot of people. Um , and through that journeys , I was able to realize a lot of things. I lost my childhood memories. I lost my language. I now think in English , I dream in English , but through my through art , I was able to slowly get back into bits and pieces of my previous life and the community aspect as well. And so I hope to be able to bring more of that into my art and really build that connection for myself.

S1: Yeah , well , it's good that you've been able to find yourself through art. Brit , you all just actually had this exhibit. Uh , Monday at The Minge. It's called Depp. First of all , what does DEP mean ? Yeah.

S3: So dep , literally translated in Vietnamese , means beautiful. It's something that is heard a lot as someone raised as a woman in Vietnamese culture , constantly being commented on your looks and how you present to the world. And Lin created a really beautiful project around the concept of beauty in the Vietnamese diaspora.

S1: Well , and it was it was one night only , and it really inspired a lot of conversation. Um , you helped organize it. Tell me about that. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. So I was one of the event organizers and also the facilitator for the event. Um , we hosted it at MinGW for their community Monday series. There was food because you can't go to a Vietnamese function without food. There was an interactive installation that we co-created where Lin wrote in calligraphy , what is dead mean to you ? And we invited folks to write their definitions on a post-it note and stick it on the mirror so that when they looked in the mirror , they could see all the various definitions of beauty that we as a community are creating to diversify from the traditional , uh , definition. And then , of course , we had an exhibit of Lin's beautiful paintings. She created a collection of six portraits , and we had a panel discussion , a fireside chat roundtable , whatever you want to call it , uh , with I think it was five other five total of us speaking. And we also invited the audience to chime into the conversation where we kind of went a little bit deeper around this concept of beauty and the traumas and the healing that comes with it in our culture.

S1: Well , Lin , what was it like to explore those themes of beauty and beauty standards through that exhibit ? Yeah.

S2: Um , do you know when I first connect with the , uh , executive director of Viet Voice at the very beginning of my artistic journeys , we share a lot of there are so many themes that I want to explore from , you know , the immigration process , um , beauty standards were one of it. But it just so interesting because I've seen in the U.S. through my experience that I don't feel quite belong in the US for a really long time , but also even when I was in Vietnam , when I'm surrounded by mostly Vietnamese in one race , there are so many moments in my life where I don't feel quite belong. I don't see myself being represented. In the media , even though I see a lot of Vietnamese actress and actor on the media , but I don't see visibly myself or the common like the majority represented on the media. And so I thought that would be a very interesting topic to explore and as a way to reclaim. My own identity through my visions. Um , it's a very vulnerable project. Is required me to kind of go back in and really explore the feeling around not belonging , you know , the reimagining of what I felt that way. If I see , you know , darker skin tone being celebrated , you know , like the very features of Asian beauty , like the monolith , like the lower bridge. No. If I see myself being celebrated , how would that look like for my younger self ? And , um , through painting and working internally with myself and connecting with the community , I've learned a lot about myself. And and this is a tribute to , you know , healing the inner child in me. And through the exhibitions we connect with so many people. I connected with Brigid. We she share her story , and I put together painting. And then also a few of the models are from Vietnam and sharing her story to. I recognize that we are all going through the same trauma and struggle. It just in different form. And so that has been a very rewarding process to be able to heal myself through art and being able to use that as a medium to start conversations for the community.

S1: And I want to go back to something that you said , you know , even in Vietnam , um , though there was a lot of representation on television , it didn't represent you talk a bit more about that.

S2: Yeah , I would say , you know , there is , um , there's a long history in Vietnam when it comes to beauty standards , but from a very long time ago , Vietnam is an agricultural country. So , um , usually you , you see , you know , the tan at dark and light skin in classicism , where darker skin means you work outside in the field and if you have lighter skin , complexion is mean. You're royalty. You stay inside most of the time. Um , so that has always been in the culture , right ? So it's sunny all the time , but people always cover their entire body when they go outside because they don't want to get dark. It's not even about your health is more of like , you don't want to look dark. Um , and I think with the Westerner coming into Vietnam through the French colonization and then the US war , we seen. Different kind of people within our own communities and , and that even promote , you know , like the hybrid , you know , the the big eye , the really fair skin tone. I remember growing up , snow white is the nation favorite , you know , Disney , Prince said. And really , the reason why is , you know , the saying where she her skin is as pale as snow. And I remember growing up , I was born tan. Um , and I just remember never get picked on for , I don't know , dance class or being part of the dance group that representing the class , because I'm not like my classmate and there's alway would even in elementary school or even younger than that. There is this thing that people would kid would do where they just put their skin against your arm and they're like , look , I'm lighter than you. So there's always that knowing that no matter what I do , no matter how much I hide my skin from the sun , I'm never at the standard. That is a beauty. So.

S1: So. So they say , right ? I feel like , I mean , that experience that you just described. I mean , it really parallels the same experience , um , within much of the black community around Colourism , um , and really the , the same experience that most colonized people face. Right ? So , I mean , I don't know , what are your thoughts on these beauty standards and where they come from ? Yeah.

S3: I just want to add on a little bit to what Lynn just shared. And you had this question around the representation in the media in Vietnam. And actually part of the experience that we created at the Mega museum included a TV monitor playing on loop. These old are not even old. Just throughout time commercials that play in Vietnam advertising whitening creams and various products. And although the actors in these commercials are Vietnamese , they have very pale skin. They have the high bridge nose. Sometimes they're even wearing blue contacts that they have blue eyes. And I think , Lynn , you even mentioned that you found out that some of these actors weren't even Vietnamese. So it's like we're being told we're we're being shown and represented , and at the same time , it's a lie. Right ? And it's not actually representing what we look like. Um. To speak a little bit to my experience as somebody who was born and raised in the States. I'm first generation Vietnamese , Lao American , and I did experience a lot of the pressures that Lynn is speaking to around , uh , staying out of the sun so that I don't get too dark in the summertime or , um , just constantly having my looks being commented upon and starting to internalize that as my value being my quote unquote beauty. And there's also this tension with the American identity. Where in the states , growing up , it was all the rage to be tan. You wanted to look like a Kardashian. You wanted to have the big curves. Directly in contradiction to my weight , my skin color being commented on almost constantly by my family. So my experience was a little bit like , okay , I can never be this or that enough. What do I need to do to get this right ? And there was no right answer ever.

S1: Yeah , I will say that not even the Kardashians look like the Kardashians. Okay. Yeah.

S4: All right.

S1: Well , you know , you all bought this this beautiful piece of artwork here. Um , and it's from the exhibit. Can you describe it , Lynn ? Yeah.

S2: So with this is the last piece of the story. Um , so with the last piece of the story , I really want it to embody something a little more playful. Um , I take on practicing Vietnamese calligraphy earlier this year , and I really want to bring that to my arc. None of the other pieces in the collections have , um , Vietnamese calligraphy , so I figured I would play around with it and see what come of it. But in this piece , I choose to portrait my friend spirit , um , in my own way of reimagining. You know , the woman , Britt um , in this piece is in her darker skin complexions , um , in a royal outfit. It's called ornament. This is the type of outfit that kings and queens used to wear back in the day. Um , and so I wanted to include all of the different types of Vietnamese traditional fashions. And , um , and as I'm thinking about , you know , how people looking at each of the pieces and this is where it ends , I want it to incorporate a lot of the saying in Vietnamese cultures. Um , so there are two saying that I include in this piece. Um , on the left side it said kind cadet , which is an idiom that I grew up learning through my culture. It's very popular. It talks about how your character will beat your beauty from the outside to that little violin. But.

S4: But.

S2: Um , but you know it. The meaning is your the inside beauty is always going to outshine what you look like from the outside. And so even though this is a collection about beauty standards , that's what I want to end on that. No. Um , and the second saying is saying it is from a famous Zen Buddhist monk. Um , you translate to know no lotus and so incorporate that in there is my way to pay homage to the beauty standard that was deemed not beautiful , but are actually the one of the culture.

S1: Yeah , it's so beautiful. And and the way you describe it is beautiful too. But you've been over here smiling ear to ear. Um , what's your reaction when you see your face in this painting ? And what was it the first moment you saw it ? Wow.

S3: Well , I'm smiling ear to ear because I love watching my friend do her thing. It's just so inspiring every single time. Um , my first reaction when Lin showed me this painting kind of felt like , what's the word I'm looking for ? It just kind of felt like a gasp and like a , like a my whole body kind of like , leaned back and I was like , oh my God , because I was really confronted with my face , um , in such a powerful way. The , the face in the painting is looking directly forward. And some , I would say most of the paintings from the collection kind of have an angle to them , right ? Like the model's looking over their shoulder , or they're kind of turned away. And I think this is one of the only ones that's like face forward. So it's really like visceral reaction. And I don't unfortunately , speak Vietnamese. And so when Lin shared these two sayings that she. Used to frame my face. I felt so honored and so at home , because my experience with the Vietnamese language is actually a lot of guilt and shame for not speaking it , for not being Vietnamese enough. And so to feel like embraced by the language is really meaningful. And no mud , no lotus is one of my favorite sayings ever. So it just was serendipitous that she chose that one. And then to be seen by somebody in my community and by a friend in such a powerful way helped me feel like , okay , I can maybe see myself in this way as well.

S1: Yeah , well , I have to know what's what's coming up next for the both of you in this creative relationship that you all share.

S2: Um , I would say , you know , I think we are so focused on this one night exhibitions , and that was our entire goal is to how do we create an experience for our community ? How do we show up for our community ? So , um , I think next. For us is to to take a little breather , you know , to rest , to soak it in. I think it is like the seat that we planted here in the community. Um , I hope really my big hope is this is not just a one night conversations. I don't think one night will do this topic just enough. So I'm hoping to work with more , you know , Vietnamese organizations or any organization who want to touch on this subject , using this collection to create open dialogue within their community and heal through that way. Um , and you know , when , when those opportunities come to be able to show more of my collections with more community , I would love to have it on my side. Went through the panels , um , because I , I , I really , truly think. Nothing is done alone. Like all of this artwork , everything that happened during the exhibition , it is so much of the collective work what every single person in the community , um , that I was fortunate enough to meet and connect and believe in my art and my vision. So yeah.

S1: Well , this is a beautiful exhibit and it really generates a great conversation and hopefully healing for a lot of people as well. I've been speaking with artist Lin Nguyen. Lin , thank you so much.

S4: Thank you.

S1: And also Brit Pham , artist and facilitator. Thank you Brit.

S3: Thank you Jade.

S1: Up next , San Diego International Fringe Festival is back with sensory overload.

S5: Well , we like to say it's 11 days of eyeball busting theatrical experiences , which pretty much is actually fairly accurate.

S1: We'll have a preview of this year's festival with its Director of operations and an award winning fringe artist.

UU: We're back after the break.

S1: Welcome back. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. The San Diego International Fringe Festival kicks off tonight. This year , it expands from its Balboa Park home base to include additional hubs in Lincoln Park , Liberty Station and Ocean Beach. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the festival with Sean Davis , its director of operations and award winning fringe artist quarter Pierce Morgan. Take a listen.

S6: We are on the eve of the new San Diego International Fringe Festival , and I can't really think of a better place to do an interview than the fringe of the fringe in the private room of lay girls theater. So , Sean , talk about what the spirit of fringe is for people who maybe have never been.

S5: Well , we like to say it's 11 days of eyeball busting theatrical experiences , which pretty much is actually fairly accurate. The fringe brings in acts from across the city , across the county , across the state , across the nation , across the country and across the world. And it's an opportunity for people in San Diego to get to see theatrical performances that unless you are really well traveled , you will never get a chance to see. And that's one of the best things about the fringe , is that we really do bring the world to your doorstep , kind of with with shows and quarter.

S6: You have been performing at fringe for a number of years , and you are part of what's called BYOB , which is bring your own venue. So explain what the stages of lay girls will be having this year.

S7: Well , this year we're doing No Regrets , which is a story , a true story that actually happened when the corrupt cops raided. To startle strippers. And what's so exciting about this is that when you get to be part of fringe , which I've been a part of it for years , and , you know , I used to do standalone theater here , but I discovered that the very best place to perform and to do the kind of things that we want to do that aren't boring , that aren't traditional , is through the San Diego International Fringe Festival. So we're totally committed. We're so excited , and we're already planning next year's show.

S6: And this year , you are also so excited about fringe that you have offered them an additional venue. So talk about what's going to be happening at Lincoln Park. Yes.

S7: Yes. Well , you know , when I first communicated with Sean that I wanted to donate my church complex , my 21,000ft building with a acre of parking , by the way , don't don't forget what I just said. We have parking and easily enough for 60 cars , you know , to come to the family friendly fringe which is on May 18th with us and also on May 25th. But when , when Sean and I first met and we decided that we would bring fringe to this underserved neighborhood , which is actually so rich , full of families and ancestry , I actually at 76 , I started doing a bunny hop across the the parking lot , the huge parking lot. I am so thrilled to be part of fringe in this way this year , and I hope we do it next year as well.

S6: And what does this mean to you , Sean ? To have additional venues.

S5: Coming out of Covid ? We had pretty much stuck to just the two venues in Balboa Park. And this year we really we I wanted us to regain our title of the largest international performing arts festival in San Diego County. And I think we've done that since. We've got over 300 performances and 60 groups and , uh , 11 venues. And Kate adding her two venues to that , as well as lay girls , that really helped out a lot and it helped get it helped give a space for all of these people who are coming in to do performances. And like she said , we've got family friends there this year for two days , we're doing four days of family fringe , which normally we only do one , so we've bumped up that. We've bumped up how many shows we're doing , we've bumped up doing different hubs , kind of. So Balboa Park with the puppet theater in the center , was kind of one hub , Lincoln Park , where Katy's venues are at. We have the new Destiny church and the No Limits Pentecostal Church. Those are right across the parking lot from each other. That's a hub because it's got two. And then we're at Liberty Station with Mockingbird Improv and the Lightbox Theater , who are across the hall from each other. So that's kind of a hub. And then as well , the other fringe managed venue that we have is the former OBX Playhouse , which a lot of people remember , kind of almost went by by a few months ago. And so Wild Song theatricals and arts collective , you know , stepped up and said , we'd really like to have you here. So we're doing performance space there as well. And then we've got a couple of other BYOB tap tastic studios in Pacific Beach. We are at Finest City Improv for the first time for the first weekend of the festival as well. Obviously lay girls. And then we have one gentleman who does stuff in Balboa Park , so we've sort of designated his spot as the Grassy Knoll , because he's doing a show that I'm assuming is about marijuana , but I don't know because we don't know what. We don't know what we get until we get there. But it's called for , too. Oh , haiku. But it's not haiku. It's hig coo. So Grassy Knoll kind of seemed appropriate to call that his venue spot.

S6: Now , you mentioned that you don't know quite what's going to be there until it gets there. Explain to people what is unique about fringe in terms of this kind of uncensored , uneducated approach.

S5: Well , being part of both Caffe and Yusef , which is the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals and the US Association of Fringe Festivals , we are not allowed to jury. So we cannot say , okay , well , send us a tape , send us a script , we'll read it. And if we like you , we'll bring you. Everybody can apply. So it doesn't matter if you have one person in your show , if you have 50 people in your show , whatever it is , as long as you fit our criteria , which is less than an hour or less , you can apply. And so when we get down to actually picking people , what happens is the first 50% of each category automatically get in. So the first 50% of local San Diego performers get in the festival , the first 50% of nationwide get in the festival , then the first 50% of international get in the festival. And then after that , everybody gets drawn out of a hat. So it's really kind of the luck of the draw. And it's kind of the same way with the fringe. And when you go pick shows , none of our people can tell you , oh , that's a good show or that's a bad show. It all for us. It's just a show. So it's kind of the same thing. It's sort of the luck of the draw when you go and pick your shows and kata.

S6: How has it been like for you over the years ? Performing at fringe here at LA Girls Theatre.

S7: And but I always wanted to communicate about the social injustice that we experienced as being a marginalised group. And so that gave fuel for some amazing , amazing plotlines. Now we are. If you want to see us , you better buy your ticket , because last year we were we were sold out. We had standing room only and we were surprised. I was so happy about it. I didn't know we were going to do so well because I told my cast , not only are you getting your hourly pay , but I'm giving you the ticket sales.

S6: And show people who have never gone to fringe.

S5: And when you're there , people who go to the fringe are all very friendly , and they love to talk and say hi. And the audience will tell you if you say , hey , have you seen anything that you really like ? They'll tell you. And then you say , okay , well , tell me about it. And that's the easiest way , I think , to figure out what it is that you want to see. But like I said , it's so diverse. You might go see something that you would never think that you would enjoy and you might walk out going , oh my God , that was amazing. You also might walk out going , oh , why did I go see that ? But , you know , it's just that's just part of the fringe. And like Kate was saying about the ticket sales , when you go to see a show , the $13 that you spend on a ticket , all of that goes to the performers. So the fringe itself doesn't take any money off that. We sell fringe tags , which are $7 each. That's how we support the festival. But for ticket sales , that $13 ticket , or if you buy a multi pass where you get discounts , all of the money from that , the proceeds of that ticket when you go see like late girls show it all goes to lay girls.

S6: And I know people sometimes get confused about fringe tags. So this is a one time purchase of $7 that once you've got that , you can go to any show and you just have to buy tickets to the individual shows.

S5: Yes , the fringe tag is basically your festival admission , and that gets you into the festival for the full 11 days. You don't have to buy it more than once , but they make great souvenirs. I have all ten of them that I wear. They're really the best way that we've been able to come up with so far to really support the festival. We have a few things this year that are a little unusual. Um , we have some special fringe raiser T-shirts that we're selling , which is the first time we've done that. And then we also have one of our performers is actually donating to performances as fundraisers for the fringe. So people are really kind of getting behind us a lot more , I feel like , and really trying to help push us back up to where we were when we were at the downtown , where we were at the Spreckels and the Jeffrey and the Lyceum stage and space , and the 10th Avenue and the Bristol Hotel. pre-COVID , we were doing 500 shows , and this year we're back to 300 , and I hope next year to bump that up again so that we get back to where we were and then maybe even larger if my sanity holds out.

S6: Well , I have to say , last year , the one good thing about a smaller group of venues was I actually saw every single show. I don't think I'm going to be able to do that this year and cut it. Sean was talking about how this is underage and uncensored.

S7: I've never once been bored with any performance I've seen at Fringe Festival. It is so exciting and I just recommend it highly. If you want to be titillated and moved and have all these kind of feelings. I mean , it's so provocative. I would definitely go to fringe. It's the only way to go to see theater , actually. And I do want to add this , is that because I'm in a church complex , because I'm , you know , I have my feet in two different worlds. I was concerned that with fringe , because you can see some pretty racy topics that at the church complex that we we wouldn't be able to have that , you know , we're definitely G-rated and we're family friendly. But then I thought , what if we get somebody that maybe doesn't fit right in ? You know what I did ? I bought a 40 foot tent with walls and nobody is going to leave us. You know , they may not be suitable for inside the church spaces , but I'm going to love them anyway , and I'm going to throw them out in the tent. So you're going to get a little bit of everything , I think , you know , at our venue.

S6: And John , talk a little bit about the diversity of what's going to be there in terms of the types of shows you can get. Wow.

S5: Um , we have pretty much everything. I mean , we have physical theater. We have comedies. We have some of the craziest stuff you will ever see. We've got three shows from Japan , but one of the groups who has been coming to the fringe for years , they're actually part of the groups are in all three shows. We have a group coming from New Zealand. We have several groups coming from Canada. We have artists coming from New York and the East Coast , as well as , you know , across California. And we have physical theatre. We have dance. So if you like dance , I've put most of the dance performances at Lightbox out at Liberty Station , because that's a dance venue , but not all of them. So we've got a couple of dance performances at the Central Cultural de la Raza as well. But we do have one , gentlemen , that's coming in. It's one of the Canadian artists that's coming in. His show is entirely in Russian , so there will be subtitles for that one. And that one's actually out at that. New destiny. Out at Qatar. Destiny.

S7: Destiny. Right. Yeah.

S5: Yeah. So there's there's there really is something for everybody. We have a few people that are doing , I believe they're doing some circus arts , even though some of them , some of them I don't know that it's really you don't really necessarily look at and go , oh , well , that's a clown show. But we do have some where one of the gentlemen is going to be riding a unicycle also at his place. So we I tried to put everything that was really sort of G-rated. Yeah. Out of respect for the churches , that that venue is probably going to be our most. Well , those two venues are probably gonna be our most family friendly venues. Mockingbird improv is going to have a lot of comedy as well as they're doing. They're performing in the festival with some of their groups from Mockingbird Improv are going to be performing. Wild Song Theatricals is actually performing in the fringe with some of their groups. The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater is actually performing in the festival with one of their groups. So I really do try to encourage the the places that we go. If there are performing arts group already , we try to get them involved in the festival as well , so that we showcase what they're doing , along with showcasing what everybody that comes in to perform in the fringe does. We really try to embody the whole community when we try to , when we do something like this.

S6: All right. Well , I want to thank you both very much for giving us a just tiny preview of this year's Fringe Festival. Oh you're. Welcome.

S5: Welcome. Thank you so much.

S7: And thank you , Beth.

S1: That was Beth Accomando speaking with Shaun Davis and Piers Morgan. The San Diego International Fringe Festival runs through May 26th , and Piers Morgan is featured in BET's new six part video podcast called Stripper Energy Fighting Back from the fringes that drops on May 22nd on YouTube. Still ahead , the rich legacy of San Diego's spoken word scene.

S8: These places were around and created a space for people to have voice and create community. So for me , it's just adding to that legacy , that rich legacy of spoken word. And even today , with other venues popping up.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. Welcome back. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman for our weekend preview. We have spoken word , a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist , and some live music pix. Joining me with all the details as KPBS arts producer and editor , Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , welcome.

S9: Hey , Jade. Thanks for having me.

S1: Always great to have you. Hey. The Lyrical Groove performs on Saturday at UC San Diego Park and Market Downtown as part of their Intersections Concert series. I'm excited about this one. Right.

S9: Right. So the lyrical groove this performance features Kendrick , Dial and Brisa Lauren. They're doing spoken word along with the live band , and that's kind of the crux of the lyrical groove sound. It's this blend between spoken word and music. It's poetry , yes , but it's and it's hip hop as well. But it's also something else. It's like this own it's own thing. And they have both been part of the spoken word scene in San Diego for a long time. Kendrick was part of elevated , which was this long standing spoken word open mic community started in 2005 and then looking to the future. The lyrical groove is also working on a new album that should be coming out pretty soon. They've won several San Diego Music Awards in the past for Best Hip Hop album , but it's been a minute since they put out a new album , so I'm looking forward to this one. Yeah.

S1: And you spoke with Kendrick dial in studio this week for an interview and also a little performance. So let's take a listen.

S9: Hey , Kendrick , I want to start with the sound of lyrical Groove.

S8: And even with the name lyrical Groove , the , the , the lyrics are such an important piece of it. But , uh , soul is the music. And when you think about soul music and where it comes from , the impact that's really what we try to capture. Um , and the fact that we. Touch on so many different aspects of of music being of black music in terms of soul and jazz and hip hop and R&B and gospel. Like if you listen , you can hear all those different elements there. So I just like to say spoken soul.

S9: I love that. I want to zoom out a little bit and talk about spoken word as a genre , too.

S8: But when it comes to poetry , it's a lot more free. And you can incorporate different elements in terms of , um , poetic nuance and literary nuance , in terms of the writing of it and being able to display , you know , the imagery and assonance and , uh , onomatopoeia and all these different things to meter and in the lyrical expression of it. But outside of that is really kind of free. It's you get a little something , everything.

S9: So the lyrical groove as a project is closely intertwined with the history of Elevated in San Diego , which is this poetry open mic that started almost 20 years ago.

S8: Well , yeah , that's about right. Yeah.


S8: Um , I have friends who've , you know , used to go to elevate it and then moved to New York and because they attended elevated , ran into other people who had , you know , come through elevated and performed and now created new and new community all the way on the East Coast. Um , I think the dynamic of being able to. A permeate throughout San Diego like we performed at schools , churches , events and whatnot. So it was also this space where people could see how poetry could be used , how poetry can be used , and go further than just on the page. And and so it just became so much more and it created a very vast community and connections and , you know , connected to all these other realms of theater and music and everything. So it was just really a great time to to be a part of that. And it's interesting because I was exploring doing a documentary about it. And whenever I say , hey , you know , elevating is just like people's face light up. They , you know , think we have a call sign in terms of how you feel and it's like , elevate it. And so it was like , you know , whenever someone goes back there , it's like it goes back to like such rich time in terms of life expression , culture and connectivity. So yeah , all , all , all of that comes up.


S8: I know even before elevate , there was a very rich history of spoken word from the taco shops. Poets Loca 504 Gallery like these places were around and created a space for people to have voice and create communities. So for me , it's just adding to that legacy , that rich legacy of spoken word. And even today , with other venues popping up , these notable places across San Diego where people get an opportunity to come share their art , create connection and community. And it's just continuing to , you know , just go through our San Diego like and and beyond , because I think one of the beautiful things is being able to see people who used to go to elevated or open mics and to see what they become. Our good friend Gil , so too is writing plays. Uh , deep is down in Houston , uh , doing some great work down there. So it's also being able to see the impact of creating this space , the impact it had on people and then what they've gone on to do.

S9: And these are all people who came from the San Diego scene. Yeah.

S8: Or came or just been a part of it for a while and just , you know , it's a small knit community too. So it's like once you connect , it's like family. So to to go and see folks doing these amazing things , it's pretty dope.


S8: I love music , I always found ways and to bring in that nuance , but typically it's the music. I mean , typically it's the it's the words and then the music. But nowadays , because I've gotten into producing a little bit more , um , I can tap into creating the music and let the music inspire the words. So I get to go back and forth every now and then , just depending on what's happening or what gets inspired. First.

S9: Can you do a piece ? This is a song that does not have music.

S8: Yeah , I'll do this piece because one of my favorite pieces , and I actually wrote it in school for an assignment. That's what it ended up. I was taking a black music class and we had to do a presentation. And so part of my presentation was researching one of my favorite , uh , artists. And so this piece came out of that. We started out selling the soles of shoes until we climbed into the attic and started putting our souls to use. Then they called us two dope boys in the Cadillac. But we were more than that , more than tracks , which was a form of evolution. And Darwin spoke of , and we did it for the love of this art form , even when society had no heart. For when we gave this music another form , we liberated it. So they bred hip hop , improvised some bebop bitches and bus stops spoken from NY accents to now southern grandma. But we're not country mamas. We musically typed hammers banging thugga. That's Georgia from Southern Playlists , that Cadillac music we used as a show we were going through from East Point to Savannah all through Atlanta. The interpreters of this musical language fusing soul , funk , electrical , jazz , rap , rock and blues. Hell , we've even been screwed for now. The students found our fortitude and spoken words and styles that you ain't heard. We're not from this earth. Consider us 80 aliens. Me and you , your mama and your cousin to Rollie down the strip on Vogues coming up , slamming Cadillac doors.

S9: So good. Thank you. You know , I also want to talk a little bit about your career as a social worker.

S8: Maybe we should. As artists , we create from our experience and what we do and how we live and how we see the world. And I've always been someone that's kind of lived in that social work. Well , just in terms of like helping people and maybe being a counselor or that friend that people go to just to hear them out. And so just as I've grown and knowledge in that field of work and understanding human behavior and people , all those dynamics of how we show up in just our regular day and lives and relationships is very much a part of kind of me looking at the world and connecting with people. So the world of social work is just another extension of that. And many of the things in terms of the critique I might provide as an artist looking at the world comes from that lens of how I'm seeing the world and what have I , what I've experienced just in my own communities and growing up. So it lays this amazing foundation to have somewhat of a knowledge of these dynamics and how they impact us , as well as my own personal experiences. And so when I get to create , the art is really just kind of taking these different perspectives and putting them all together and sometimes making it maybe a little bit more palatable to be able to hear and listen to , or maybe just offering a nice backdrop so that these messages can just kind of sing to your soul a little bit more.

S9: And this Saturday , you're performing at UC San Diego Park and Markets Intersection concert series with the lyrical groove. And this show actually marks your first performance in a while.

S8: I think on one hand , because I've been doing a lot of work on the production side , recording and work with a few different people and even composing for film. It's still been a space where I've still been creating and whatnot , and we've been living life my stage as Brisa. She had a baby a couple of years ago , and so just watching , that's my godson. So watching him grow up , and he's about 18 months old now , so he's walking and talking , getting into so much mischief. And my own daughter , she's about to graduate high school and go to college. So it's all of these , you know , major life events that are kind of happening too. So it was , you know , life still been laughing. So so we , you know , we haven't been on stage per se. And but we still been invested heart and soul , uh , creatively , you know , we love going to shows. We love going to support our friends that are performing and seeing them and seeing it's it's actually this new crop of artists that are coming up in the city as well. So , um , we may not have been on the stage ourselves , but we still been around the art itself. So and it's been a good space , and it's also allowed us an opportunity to kind of miss it. And so I know kind of getting back on stage , it'll it'll be fun. Maybe.

S9: Maybe. Tell us a little bit about this track. It's called The Joint and it's your latest single. Yes.

S8: Yes. Uh , so the joint actually stands for the journey notwithstanding. And so it is this homage to the arts , music , poetry. If you break down the lyrics , you can see the mention of , you know , songs and movements and artists and writers and artists , all these different things that at the time when I wrote it were , you know , staples in terms of just me exploring music and and reading and all this good stuff. So , uh , that's what that is. And I think it's a great way because. Is probably going to end up kicking off the album , uh , because it is so much of an homage to , you know , the art that influence influences me. And so this piece is , uh , called The Joint. And what I love about this piece is it's just. It's kind of raw. It's kind of in the moment. It's very much of a freestyle free verse esque type feel. The band is just jamming and so it sounds like this. I'm learning to live. I'm learning to live alive. Because I'm learning to love Supreme. I couldn't understand it before , so I had to start digging. Digging in rhythm. Digging in beats. Digging in sounds while I was moving my feet. Moving my hands. Moving my heart. To talk. They talk in songs to talk and truth. To talk and thought to talk to you. Memories of how my village sang sweet harmonies and chants for God to bless a child transformed into old Negro spirituals by my new native tongue. And as I wade in the water , I'm torn from my family. You can touch my body but my soul you cannot slaughter. Now my daughter's not allowed to speak. So she sings the blues accompanied by swinging time jazz. And they just keep on evolving. So even though I keep falling , I know that I have to get up I need to get up I shout out to the world. Wake up everybody.

S1: He'll perform with Bryce Allen this Saturday at UC San Diego Park and Market downtown. I'm Jade Hindman here with KPBS Arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans , and we're talking about what's going on in arts and culture this weekend. Okay. Well , let's talk about contemporary dance. Disco riot returns with their series called Corio , and this time it's Corio and the big Gay picnic. So please explain.

S9: So , yeah , they're Corio and series. It's their way of pairing new choreography. These are often like , brand new works , site specific , created for these events , and they pair it with some sort of audience activity. Not dance , but something else. Something that gets the body moving. Like early iterations , they had Corio and skates at the roller rink. There was Corio and Climb at a rock climbing gym , and this one is more of a community hangout. There's picnic games and activities , and it's coinciding with San Diego's annual big Gay picnic , which takes place at the Sixth Avenue side of Balboa Park. This is Sunday afternoon and so you can catch dance performances. Five choreographers have works that are going to be performed by Disco Riot dancers , and there's also going to be this special picnic blanket installation , uh , from visual artists Yvette Roman and Sheena Rae Dowling. Their project together is called Collective Memory , and I remember this project when it was part of the City of San Diego's Park Social Project. They they crowdsource materials like old clothing or rags , things that kind of have a history and a memory to them , and they turn them into hand-woven rugs. So this is all happening at the big Gay picnic. It's Saturday from noon to four.

S1: Well , that sounds really exciting. Also , photojournalist Don Bartlett is opening a new exhibit that spans 45 years of his career covering the US-Mexico border. What do you know about that work ? Right.

S9: So he is a Pulitzer Prize winner. He got his start in San Diego. He was working for the Union Tribune before moving to the LA times. And his best known work is is what actually won him the Pulitzer. It's a 2003 photo essay called Enrique's Journey , and that followed undocumented Central American young people as they traveled through Mexico towards the border. And he's been covering the border for a long , long time , and he's still working. So this exhibit actually pairs his older works side by side with similar photos that he's taken in the last three years. And it's kind of this way of looking back while also thinking about what is still going on at the border. And yeah , it's more than just your standard retrospective exhibit. He will Don Bartlett. He will actually be at the Photographer's Eye Gallery. This is in Escondido. The reception is Saturday from 5 to 7. And he's also doing a lecture that's at 3:00 , right before the reception across the street at the Grand Theater. And this will all be on view through June 15th.

S1: All right.

S9: First is tonight at courtyard. This is indie band Wednesday , who they put out one of my favorite albums of last year. It's called Rat Saw God. And this is the track quarry from that album. And then Friday night at Soda Bar. Local band Twin Ritual will perform with a couple of LA bands , Social Order and Cameron Romance. Twin ritual is synth pop , and it features Laura Hagen of Le Chateau and then Anthony Ramirez of Glass Bells. So it's kind of like a supergroup of two pop bands in San Diego. And this song , Wicked Little Town , is from their latest album , Ali , which came.

UU: Out last year. I also. Tell me I like you. You make it smart. You.

S9: And at House of Blues on Sunday , we have Chicano soul band Los Yesterdays. I love their sound. It's kind of this timeless blend of soul and rock and R&B and funk , and this is their new single , which came out in March. It's called I Can't Feel.

UU: I don't care about nothing. Since God allows you. I care for.

S1: You can find details on these and more artists , or sign up for Julia's weekly KPBS Arts newsletter at Smart's I've been speaking with KPBS Arts producer and editor Julia Dixon. Evans , Julia. So much to enjoy this weekend. Get out there and do it.

S9: Get out there and do it. Thanks , Jade.

UU: You know I can't be , I can't be. Cheers.

S1: That is our show for today. If you missed any of it , you can always download the Midday Edition podcast wherever you listen. Don't forget to watch Evening Edition tonight at five for in-depth coverage of San Diego issues. Before I go , I want to thank our Midday Edition team producers Giuliana Domingo , Ashley Rush and Andrew Bracken , senior producer Brooke Ruth , art segment contributors Julia Dixon Evans and Beth Accomando , technical producers Rebecca Chacon , Ben Ridloff and Brandon Trevor. Our theme music is from San Diego's own The Surefire Soul Ensemble. I'm Jade Hindman. Make it a great day on purpose. And thanks for listening , everyone. Everybody.

UU: Everybody. Oh one. By the middle.

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A close-up of an artwork by Linh Nguyễn, May 16, 2024. It was featured in her most recent exhibit, Đẹp.
Julianna Domingo
A close-up of an artwork by Linh Nguyễn, May 16, 2024. It was featured in her most recent exhibit, Đẹp.

It’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we want to highlight artists who are innovating and starting important conversations in their communities.

On Midday Edition Thursday, artist Linh Nguyễn reflects on her most recent exhibit, Đẹp, which dives into Vietnamese beauty norms and pays homage to the history behind them. Britt Pham helped organize the exhibit.

Artist Linh Nguyễn stands next to one of her pieces in the Midday Edition studio, May 15, 2024.
Julianna Domingo
Artist Linh Nguyễn stands next to one of her pieces in the Midday Edition studio, May 15, 2024.

Plus, the San Diego International Fringe Festival kicks off Thursday night. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the festival.

And finally, KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans shares her top weekend arts picks including an upcoming concert with Lyrical Groove, a group who blends music and spoken word.


  • Linh Nguyễn, artist
  • Britt Pham, artist and facilitator
  • Shaun Davis, Director of Operations of the San Diego International Fringe Festival
  • Kata Pierce-Morgan, Fringe artist
  • Kendrick Dial, spoken word artist and member of Lyrical Groove
  • Julia Dixon Evans, KPBS arts producer and editor
Prepare for sensory overload with 11 days of eyeball busting theatrical experiences.