14 murals in Philly that speak to the Asian experience
From resistance in Chinatown to gambling addiction in South Philly to the grace of Asian elders in North Philly, here's a look at murals that tell the stories of Asians.
Philadelphia is home to more than 4,000 murals.
Some, such as some in the black community, pay tribute to people lost. Others, such as the Frank Rizzo mural in the Italian Market, serve, for some, as painful reminders. And then there are others, such as those in Chinatown, which act as a boundary, a community staking a claim on threatened territory.
From resistance in Chinatown to gambling addiction in South Philly to the grace of Asian elders in North Philly, here's a look at city murals that tell the stories of Asians.
>> READ MORE: He painted murals in Beijing. Now, he dreams of painting Chinatown.
(This list doesn’t mention the work of some Asian artists and muralists, such as Wing Young Huie, because their local murals don’t explicitly depict the Asian experience, but we’d love to hear of any we missed. Leave a comment or send us a tweet or an email.)
‘History of Chinatown’ by Arturo Ho
Commissioned for Chinatown's 125th Anniversary, this mural "is historically significant, as the 900 and 1000 blocks of Winter were two of the most affected by extensive demolition to make way for the Vine Street Expressway and other redevelopment projects," writes Kathryn Wilson, a Georgia State professor who wrote a book about Philadelphia's Chinatown. "Facing Vine Street, the mural stakes a claim to territory, publicly announcing a northern entrance to historic Chinatown."
‘The Vision of Paradise’ by Lily Yeh
Lily Yeh, the Taiwanese-born artist who founded the Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philly, painted and fired this two-story-high mural, made of ceramic tiles, for the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp.'s mixed-use building Gim San Plaza in 1988. Like the History of Chinatown, this mural acted as an eastern boundary for Chinatown along Ninth Street, Wilson wrote: "Establishing this boundary was important for PCDC developers, particularly then-executive director Cecilia Moy Yep, who had witnessed the devastation of this block in the 1970s to make way for a commuter rail tunnel. … For her, reclaiming the land for Chinatown was a personal as well as community achievement." In 2017, though, the mural collapsed, Yeh said.
‘Colors of Light’ by Josh Sarantitis
Completed in 1999, this mural, which features Asian Arts Initiative founder Gayle Isa, is located where then-Mayor John Street once proposed building a new Phillies stadium. The Chinatown community fought against the plan, which would have destroyed parts of Chinatown North, Wilson wrote on her blog. Since 2017, though, the mural has been largely obstructed by building construction and only a portion of it can be seen from Vine Street -- four Chinese characters that mean “steadfastly united,” according to reader and historian Bochy Fu.
‘Southeast by Southeast’ project
Described by PlanPhilly as "public art meets community art therapy," the 2012 Southeast by Southeast mural project from Shira Walinsky and Miriam Singer aimed to tell the stories of the Bhutanese and Burmese refugee communities in South Philly.
Walinsky also painted a mural depicting Vietnamese "boat people" called The Journey: From Vietnam to the United States outside of the Bo De Buddhist Temple in South Philadelphia.
‘Start From Here’ by Isaac Tin Wei Lin
Isaac Tin Wei Lin is the artist behind Start From Here, which Mural Arts described as one of the city's most Instagrammed murals. "The use of colors of national flags speaks to the idea that (unless you are Native American) we all come from somewhere else as immigrants or refugees, and as the artist's parents did, are here to start a new life," reads the MuralArts description. Lin also has a mural on Swanson Walk in South Philly.
‘The Atlas of Tomorrow’ by Candy Chang
Artist Candy Chang completed this mural in 2016, her take on the ancient Chinese text and guide to life, the I Ching.
“A Daughter Migrates Toward the Mother Earth” by Jess X Snow
Part of Mural Art's 2017 "We the People" project curated by RJ Rushmore of street art blog Vandalog, New York City-based artist Jess X Snow's mural "speaks to the movement of immigration, and the way that it intersects with family experience," according to Mural Arts.
“Nature Matching System” by Tattfoo Tan
In Staten Island-based artist Tattfoo Fan's mural, colors correspond to different fruits and vegetables eaten by the refugee communities that settled in South Philly. He also translated "Remember to take your daily dose of color" into the languages spoken by the communities he worked with: Karen, Chin, and Nepali.
‘Fables of Fortune’ by Eric Okdeh
Located in South Philly's Asian immigrant enclave, artist Eric Okdeh's mural was painted to raise awareness about the gambling addiction that plague Asian immigrant communities.
‘Alab Ng Puso: My Heart’s Sole Burning Fire’ by Eliseo Silva
Filipino American artist Eliseo Silva completed this mural on Bustleton Avenue in the Northeast in 2013. Read Inquirer reporter Michael Matza’s 2012 story about it here. Depicting famous Filipinos such as Philippine national hero Jose Rizal and labor activist and writer Carlos Bulosan, as well as boxer Manny Pacquiao, it’s been described as the first Filipino mural in the East Coast. Silva, who spent 12 years in Philly painting murals with Mural Arts, also completed this mural of a Filipina girl at 154 E. Huntingdon Street in Kensington in 2003 and another in 2005 depicting an Asian family coming to the U.S. at Gilbert Spruance Elementary School in the Castor neighborhood of the Northeast.
‘Longevity Through the Arts’ by Ann Northrup
Unveiled last year, this mural, outside of Penn Asian Senior Services (PASSi), a senior center geared toward Asian elders, aims to show the beautiful side of aging, Generocity reported. It features PASSi executive director Im Ja Choi’s mother performing a traditional Korean fan dance.
‘How We Fish’ by Social Impact Studios and Eric Okdeh
Completed in 2012, this mural features the English and Chinese versions of the Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.“ The Chinese, as translated by Fu, the historian who sent us this mural, reads: "Better to teach a person how to fish rather than merely give them fish.”
‘House of Dragon Salutes Chinatown’ by Steven Olszewksi
This mural, outside of the fire station known as the “House of Dragons,” was painted in 1995 by firefighter Steven Olszewski and restored in 2017 by Kien Nguyen and Lucia Michel.