Of her many talents, former two.one.five Fashion Director Catzie Vilayphonh is best known for her dominating spoken word performances on controversial social and political issues that widely affect Asian American communities. Now further extending her need-to-know worldly knowledge, Catzie’s working on new project, backed in part by the prestigious Knight Arts Foundation. Read on to learn about her winning ideas for Philly’s first Lao arts festival and her inspirations and observations as an artist, a poet, and an organizer–or simply, as Catzie.
two.one.five magazine: Tell us about your Knight Arts Project.
Catzie Vilayphonh: It is a project –an arts festival—to bring in other Lao artists to come to Philadelphia. For a while now Lao artists feel like we don’t get recognized by our own communities. We get recognized by other [arts] communities—like, if we were writing a play, the play writing community would recognize us but the people we grew up around don’t really know what we are doing.
Part of the reason why [the Lao] community doesn’t know who we are is because our culture doesn’t really prioritize the arts. When they think about the arts, they just think about traditional arts like folk arts. But we are Asian American, we are Lao American, so therefore there is this hybrid of cultures going on. We have our traditional ethnic background and we come to America and we are given new lives.
I’m part of a group called Yellow Rage, and so even though the spoken word community knows who I am and the Asian American community knows who I am, I’m still sort of a mystery to my own community. My mom didn’t know what I did until she saw me on TV. I think for a long time she thought I was just lecturing. And I was like, “Oh yea I talk in schools” and she sort of saw it and was like, “Oh, OK, I get it now.” But I feel like part of the reason that our community doesn’t know who we are is because our culture doesn’t recognize us and so I am like alright then I’m going to bring all of these artists to come to Philadelphia and then you’ll see that we actually are doing something.
215: Tell us a little more about the cultural disconnect you see in your community, or in the Asian American community in general.
CV: When I was growing up, I didn’t get Asian American history until my senior year of high school and even then, they touched upon a small part of South East Asia. And I was like, well we need to tell the story and if nobody else is going to do it then, we need to tell our own stories. I feel like by making an example of having all these artists come in and tell that story, then other people can be encouraged to tell their own stories, and so I sort of see it as a healing medium.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.