More of Something Good is an online art project protesting against racism and celebrates the Asian community during COVID-19
While the start of the pandemic may have felt like a life time ago, it has had lasting ramifications on our society. From quite early on we started seeing racially-charged verbal and physical attacks on the Asian community, a boycotting and avoidance of Asian eateries and supermarkets and closures of our favourite local Asian restaurants. Cases in Australia, at this point, were quite few and far in between but that didn’t stop some members of our society expressing their racially charged views.
Designers Michael Souvanthalisith and Muriel-Ann Ricafrente, with Asian-Australian backgrounds themselves, decided enough was enough after hearing about one heart-breaking incident after another and took it upon themselves to design for change and to ‘shift this toxic narrative’.
More of Something Good (MSG) is an online art project that was born from this to protest against ‘an increasing anti-Asian sentiment’ and to celebrate Asian culture and cuisines. We had an opportunity to speak with Mike and Muriel from Studio MIMU and pull back the curtains on their thinking behind MSG.
Let’s get to know you both a bit better, tell us about yourselves and Studio MIMU!
STUDIO MIMU is an after-hours avenue for personal art and design work, made up of Mi (Michael Souvanthalisith) and Mu (Muriel-Ann Ricafrente). We live in a tiny apartment together, work as Senior Designers at Frost*Collective, daydream about owning a dog or cat and eat udon on weekends. The projects we put out through MIMU are the result of overlapping interests, shared political beliefs and a collaborative approach to visualising ideas. Our ambition is to create well-crafted, deeply-considered and unquestionably interesting work. It's a little lofty, but it's the goal! Fortunately, because we don't seek out freelance work, we put a lot of energy into pure experimentation, and using design as a way of creating larger dialogue within our communities.
What you’re doing with More of Something Good (or MSG) is incredible, can you elaborate on this project, the name and how it came to be?
It's worth mentioning first-and-foremost that MSG started off as a form of protest against the media coverage of COVID-19 and the spate of racially-targeted attacks on the Asian community. Harmful stereotypes and stigmas also resurged. It's not easy seeing people get verbally abused and spat on who not only look like you but live the same city as you. An added layer of fear was added to our already cautious supermarket trips. We also can't talk about MSG, without talking about the front page graphic the Herald Sun ran in late-January depicting a red face mask, adorned with yellow type reading 'PANDA-MONIUM'. There's also a Wiki page that documents xenophobic and racist incidents from around the world (which you can view here). You can begin to imagine how furious and helpless this made us feel and thus, More of Something Good was born to support our community in their time of need and shift this toxic narrative.
MSG is a celebration of Asian cuisine that marries the universal loves of food and art. We invite artists to highlight their favourite dish from their favourite local Asian restaurant as a way of welcoming people back into our eateries. The project has been running since February, with close to 100 artists under its roster from all over Australia. We've also collaborated with chefs like Dan Hong and Karina Serex, and have recently started up the GOOD SUPER MRKET (GSM); an online shop that supports artists through the sale of fine art prints and brings to life their favourite snacks from their local Asian grocers/supermarkets. The project has always been 'not-for-our-profit' and instead aims to get people spending money on eating out and buying artist prints. It's been a whirlwind of a time doing MSG alongside our day-jobs, but it's been very emotionally rewarding and we've made so many great friends through it. It also goes without saying, we've discovered so many new lunch and dinner spots too!
It's pretty obvious that the name is a nod to the cooking MSG that appears in most Asian food, which also occurs naturally in a lot of tomatoes and cheeses. There were a few other names we tossed around, but a lot of them were puns and we felt it watered down our intent. It needed to feel as authentic as the food we were trying to celebrate. We saw a parallel between how MSG and COVID-19 were weaponised against Asian restaurants. So we decided to proudly reclaim MSG as More of Something Good – a positive twist that also doubles as a kind of soft-protest against ignorance.
There’s such varied range of illustrations, how have you been finding and choosing artists to work with?
We're big believers in diverse representation and supporting emerging artists, so for the first round of MSG and GSM we focused on having an all-Asian line up. It's a little depressing to mention how hard it was to find those artists. Thankfully we have a good network of friends. When we look for artists for new rounds of MSG/GSM we spend a lot of our time insta-digging or asking friends for recommendations. We don't bother too much with higher profile artists, as we like to give wings to those under-represented and whose talents deserve just as much spotlight. Most projects like this usually rely on big names to make them successful and that usually means the same names get asked time and time again. We're trying to break the mould on that and we'd like to think MSG is proving that there's still power in grass-roots movements.
You began MSG as a way to support our local Asian eateries and groceries but you’ve in turn started supporting and highlighting designers, artists and illustrators of Asian decent as well. How do you see this impact extending to the broader Asian design community?
We're not very good at the SEO side of things, so we don't really track our reach. Our impact is really only validated by the DMs we get or the kind of people who start following MSG. We've been lucky to be featured on SBS Food, VICE, Broadsheet and even Gourmet Traveller, which has helped us reach people we wouldn't have access to otherwise.
MSG isn't the first and definitely won't be the last project to spotlight what the Asian-Australian community offers to the fabric of culture. More diverse line-ups have the power to shift perception and promote the idea that a career in the creative industry is tangible/achievable for people who look like us. Michelle Law once said something like, "you have to see it to be it" and we couldn't agree more. There's not a doubt in our minds that young Asian creatives are looking at the names we work with and go, "They look like me! That could be me!" We're trying to show the rest of Australia that there's other kinds of Asian food out there beyond Sweet & Sour Pork (although Muriel has a soft spot for S&SP).
Making a difference or impact with art and design—some young designers don’t see our field as much ‘help’ in this aspect when they’re starting out. What would you say to them?
We're often sold on this idea that there's only a few particular ways of doing things in the world of art and design. There's also a lot of rules and a lot of gatekeepers. However, art and design is at it's best when it moves away from what's expected and embraces possibility. We're living in an age now where we no longer have to rely on and wait around for the powers-that-be to give us handouts. We can create our own platforms, form our own communities online and have open dialogue without the need to water anything down or make it a little less spicy. It's liberating. It's an opportunity to be unapologetically yourself.
In university, we were taught that design is a form of communication, but it's better thought of as a bridge for connection. Design can be so much more than just storytelling; it can also foster meaningful, culture-shifting conversations. Design can give people the agency to create change, be a shoulder to lean on and offer a helping hand during one of the strangest years we've ever experienced in our lifetime. Design can also ignite an ensemble of feelings; feelings of hope, wonder, joy, empathy and togetherness. Once we open up our definition of what design 'is' and look at what it can 'do' for us and the people we share this beautiful world with, it becomes an incredibly powerful force for positive change.
You’ve mentioned that MSG was brought to life as a result of the pandemic, fear-mongering and racial bias that the Asian community has experienced, if it weren’t for these events do you think MSG would have manifested itself as something else?
We'd like to think without the pandemic, we would've found another way to weave together our love for food, art and design. But who knows? Would it have been as critical as MSG? Maybe not. However, there wasn't anything about MSG that felt completely alien to what we've done before or continue to do through our practice. Prior to MSG, we had created a fake rebrand for Sydney's much-loved Eating World food court in Chinatown. Before that, Mike had a little T-shirt label that subverted Asian stereotypes through bold, tongue-in-cheek graphics. Mike is also the co-founder of Lousy Ink, the world's first 100% recycled artist ink and has been working with artists on exhibitions for a few years now. If anything, all of our past projects felt like the warm-up games before the real thing. Through many trials and countless errors, we learnt how to quickly build a small idea into a fully-realised project with the legs to carry itself, and room to grow beyond its initial launch.
And finally, for designer’s that are reading this wanting to get in touch with you about MSG, what do you need from them and how should they contact you?
There's a certain level of curation we do for MSG, but for the most part we're super open to people reaching out to us. We've had all sorts of creatives on board; from more traditional artists who paint, digital illustrators. animators and a few 3D folk too. We are always looking to expand the mediums we show. As long as people have a confident approach to their work and it's something we can use to promote the restaurants, then it's probably right for MSG :)
Treat your eyes to the visual feast that is moreofsomethinggood.com @moreofsomethinggood | @studiomimu