Elim-MakI am a Chinese Canadian American artist and art therapist living and working in New York City. In my generation, pursuing anything related to art was considered an uncommon and impractical career choice if you were Chinese, and especially female. Furthermore, there are currently very few Chinese in the field of art therapy – which is already a rare, specialized profession in the mental health industry. Being the token minority wherever I go is an all-too familiar role due to my unconventional upbringing as the only daughter and middle child of a born-again Chinese Christian preacher’s family.

Growing up in a heavily evangelical environment had a profound affect on me: as an adult, art is now my ministry and my meditation, largely inspired by Asian art, religion, and design. For the past several years I have been under the tutelage of Pema Rinzin, master Tibetan painter and founder of the New York Tibetan Art Studio, the only school of its kind in the West. My contemporary paintings are enhanced by this unique study of traditional Tibetan brushwork and drawing technique, where the execution of each line is considered mindfulness practice. The development of individual style through this ancient form of artistic expression is strongly encouraged. As an art therapist, my clinical work with patients mirrors this parallel process: bearing witness to the struggle with and search for one’s authentic self, discovering one’s own voice, and connecting to emotional experience through art-making.

I believe that cultural identity as a Chinese American is an ever-evolving journey, and that there is no one set path. Our task as humans is to learn to how to live fully in the present moment, to be wholly accepting of ourselves and who we are, even if we feel suspended in that transitional space between two cultures, even though it feels that we are neither here nor there, and that’s ok. It’s like what I tell my patients. You just sit with it.

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