Phung Huynh is a Los Angeles-based artist and educator whose work explores cultural perception and representation. Known for exploring the complexities of Southeast Asian refugee communities through drawings that include the iconic pink donut box, Huynh applied her artistic practice and her own experience as a refugee and immigrant to her work as a Creative Strategist in residence with Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA). During the residency (2021-2022), she developed artist-led strategies to build trust between LA County agencies and the region's immigrant communities and increase their participation in LA County support services, and she developed strategies to build capacity within OIA in arts-based community engagement practices.
Huynh designed a range of accessible art activities for OIA outreach events to attract people to their tables and encourage them to stay longer, enabling staff to connect more immigrants and refugees to County resources. Activities included making quilt squares, decorating tote bags, and chalk art, while take-home art kits were distributed with resource materials. To ensure sustainability long-term, Huynh mentored an OIA staff member to lead the art activities after the residency concluded.
As a strategy to establish a welcoming atmosphere that celebrates the street vendor economy, Huynh designed a wrap that will transform an OIA outreach van to look like an ice cream truck, with flavors inspired by LA’s diverse immigrant communities. Using the imagery designed for the van, she collaborated with the staff to create a coloring book that addresses language access and uplifts the immigrant narrative.
Many on the OIA team have their own immigrant stories. Huynh interviewed each staff member and drew their portraits, which she used on the outreach van and in the coloring book, as a way to humanize the agency and build trust with the communities they serve. She partnered with Dewey Tafoya, a master printmaker at Self Help Graphics & Art, to design a T-shirt for staff to wear at outreach events to help community members recognize them when out in the field.
To support cultural competency, create learning experiences, and provide opportunities for team building, Huynh planned staff outings to art exhibits, such as the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach to experience the Judy Baca retrospective and the LA County Museum of Art to see Mixpantli: Space, Time, and the Indigenous Origins of Mexico.
The timing and content of Huynh's solo exhibit Donut (W)Hole, which debuted in spring 2022 at Self Help Graphics and honored second-generation Cambodian Americans who grew up with families who worked in or owned donut shops, was well aligned with her residency. To take advantage of this opportunity, Huynh collaborated with OIA and the gallery on two events -- a family resource fair that included an art workshop and tour, and a panel discussion on refugees and asylum seekers.
Huynh found that her residency within a government agency connected to and deepened her artistic practice in surprising ways and will have a lasting impact on future projects. Designed to transform how the County approaches its work with community, the residency left its mark on the Office of Immigrant Affairs as well. "Every department should have the benefits of a creative strategist to inform and strengthen the work they do for our communities," said Rigoberto Reyes, Executive Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs.
About the Artist
Phung Huynh is a Los Angeles-based artist and educator whose practice is primarily in drawing, painting, and public art. Her work explores cultural perception and representation. Huynh challenges beauty standards by constructing images of the Asian female body vis-à-vis plastic surgery to unpack how contemporary cosmetic surgery can create obscurity in cultural and racial identity. Her current work of drawings on pink donut boxes explores the complexities of the refugee experience in Southeast Asian communities. Huynh has had solo exhibitions at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills and the Sweeney Art Gallery at the University of California, Riverside. Her paintings and drawings have been exhibited nationally and internationally. She has also completed public art commissions for the Metro Orange and Silver Lines, and the Los Angeles Zoo. Huynh is a Professor of Art at Los Angeles Valley College. She is Chair of the Public Art Commission for the city of South Pasadena and has served as Chair of the Prison Arts Collective Advisory Council. She completed undergraduate coursework at USC, received her BFA degree with distinction from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and her MFA degree from New York University.
Learn more about the Creative Strategist program, which places artists in County departments to develop artist-driven solutions to complex civic issues.