Lisa Sy

Artist, Illustrator, Designer

The study of colonialism necessitates an understanding of how encounters between different peoples occur in what is termed the contact zone, a social space in which disparate cultures encounter with the potential of clashing each other because of “highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination.” In the early and mid-16th century, an emerging Euro-centric desire to explore, discover, and settle in other territories in other parts of the world – namely, that territory across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe called the Americas – became a realized opportunity for the Spanish to colonize these new foreign lands. Such a lofty task was inevitably met with its own challenges, such as the need to ally with a reinforcing coalition, who shared a similar vision and had benign relations with the Spanish, and the need to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to facilitate dialogue between the Spanish and that other group.

Resolving the conflict that arises when two cultures encounter each other requires an dynamic, intermediary figure who can unite both parties under a common purpose.For the history of the Spanish conquest of Mexica, that figure is La Malinche, a Nahua woman who served as an intermediary cultural and linguistic translator for the Spanish and the indigenous people of Tlaxcala, both of whom sought to band together to take over Tenochtitlan Mexico. She has been portrayed in Mexican art ranging from the 16th century to the 20th century because her significant accomplishments and unique social identity make her both a celebrated and contested figure in colonial history. Because of her powerful achievements, Malinche has been depicted through different narratives in art that highlight the location of her colonial legacy through transculturation, a process in which marginalized groups form meaning out of information transmitted to them by the dominant or metropolitan culture.

Before we can introduce an analysis of three different artworks the center on Malinche, we must first acknowledge her background and identity in the context of the history to which she belonged. Malinche was a Nahua woman who is credited as having brought success to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the early 16th century. Also known as Malintzen and Doña Marina, Malinche was celebrated by the people of her time for her role as a linguistic interpreter and cultural mediator between Hernán Cortés, the leader of the Spanish conquistadors, and Txicotencatl, the leader of the indigenous state of Tlaxcala, who sought to overcome cross-cultural and cross-linguistic barriers in order to align together to defeat Montecuzoma of Tenochtitlan Mexico. She is remembered in the colonial imagination for her diplomatic skills in mediating the transmission of power from the Aztec Empire to the Spanish Empire.

À Montreal

November 14, 2017

It's now Autumn, and I want to make sure I don't want to forget to tell you about my time in Montreal at the end of this summer. I saved up my vacation days this year to spend all of last week with my work emails and calendar on beach mode. With that set, I ventured to Montreal and New York City on the other coast.

After reaping only 2 hours of sleep because of my red-eye flight to Montreal, I wandered down the streets of Mile End on a bleary Saturday morning. My AirBnb apartment was not ready, so I could not yet nap. My friends from Boston and New York hadn't arrived, so I was in my own company.

When Carlos and Celine arrived, the three of us wandered – back and forth snaking through Mile End, up and down Viator, roaming in and out of boutiques and book stores and cafes and anything that would captivate the attention of three American 20-something urbanite tourists.

A few months ago, I decided to study and practice French again. These urges occur sporadically when I least expect it. The first was back at Wesleyan, where I decided to enroll in a French language course again even after faltering badly in my high school's AP French course. It had been time for reparations.

The second time was after graduating from college and going through that hazy time where I both felt certain and uncertain of who I was and what I wanted. I was tired of crying all of the time and being by myself, and I somehow found solace through learning French again with my French conversation partner and new friend.

Now was the third time.

What is it about holding my mouth open for throttled words to jump out that is so appealing? To toll along the embarrassing vulnerability of trying so hard, only to get blank stares in return? Pourquoi?

Practicing French is similar to practicing my art. As much as I try to imagine goal posts to reach, there really is no clear endpoint in which I think I've met my goals. An artist practices their art… so a French speaker practices their French, is that true? When people say that they're fluent in a language, what do they mean? What is fluency, anyway? The ability to conjugate the 200 most common verbs in a language, across all of its tenses? The ability to be able to pick up cultural humor and slang across the idioms and puns that exist? The ability to read and write academic journals in that foreign language?

Je ne sais pas. I know I love practicing French because I'm stubborn and like challenges. I will seize opportunities where I can expand my worldview. And I think this world needs this worldview more than ever now as well.

I spent a large portion of yesterday recentering myself and what I want out of my life and art practice. After drinking a warm matcha latte in downtown Berkeley and jotting all of my notes down without inhibition, I went on and decided to paint the view outside of my window — Lois The Pie Queen.

Having lived in this unit for a few years, I have attempted many paintings of Lois, but I was never happy with any of my past attempts. I found that sometimes, I'd used too many warm colors, created a messy washed out look. When I saw myself following a similar pattern yesterday, I immediately cleaned my palette and filled it with blues and greens to inspire me.

The Value of Attention

April 7, 2017

"Attention … is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought, localization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatter brained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German." - William James