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The UPS Store Small Business Blog
  • 12 May 2023
  • Public Relations

Creating Proudly Unstoppable Strength and Resilience in the Asian American Pacific Islander Community

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and honor the rich history, culture and contributions of AAPI communities across the United States. This month first started as a week-long observance organized by Congress in 1977– and later expanded to a month-long celebration, to take place during the month of May, in 1992 by way of public law.

Asian american pacific islander month

The AAPI community is diverse, with members from more than 20 different countries and territories, each with their unique cultures, traditions, and histories. Stevie Shao, a Seattle-born-and-raised second-generation Chinese-American artist, makes her mark as an artist, illustrator and muralist.

Shao’s art highlights culture and symbolism around the world. Her artwork, “Ascending Tiger,” represents her culture and the values that make so many small business owners, like Shao herself, unstoppable. And the unstoppable nature of small businesses owners is something The UPS Store is proud to support. The tenacity, drive, and hunger to do and accomplish anything.

This month, in celebration and recognition of Asian American Pacific Islander Month, we’re proud to collaborate with Shao and feature her artwork “Ascending Tiger” on our express envelopes available at The UPS Store nearest you, as part of our Proudly Unstoppable, diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. Through Proudly Unstoppable, The UPS Store supports and works with artists and small business owners from underrepresented and marginalized communities to highlight the importance of understanding other people, other backgrounds, and other cultures.

Shao’s art highlights culture and symbolism around the world. Her artwork, “Ascending Tiger,” represents her culture and the values that make so many small business owners, like Shao herself, unstoppable. We sat down with Shao to ask her about her work, her experience as a small business owner and what makes her unstoppable.

Symbolism and Representation in Proudly Unstoppable Artwork

What does your piece “Ascending Tiger” stand for and what message do you hope it delivers?

Tigers can represent many things, but in this particular scene, the tiger is climbing a mountain to return home. This image is intended as a symbol of strength and resilience in the AAPI community, finding oneself and persevering.

How does your style, and the style of this piece, reflect your heritage and culture? 

My style often incorporates natural elements, whether it’s from the Pacific Northwest where I live and work, or another location. The artwork I create is often based in folk tales, and animal and plant symbology found around the world. It’s special to me to include characters or flora from stories I grew up with as a Chinese American.

What do some of the other motifs, like the bamboo within this piece represent? 

Bamboo is representative of vitality – it’s fast growing, dense and flexible, whereas a caterpillar and butterflies are discoverable in various areas of the artwork, showing the beauty of transformation not only in its final form but in its beginning.

As an artist and small business owner, what does “unstoppable” mean to you? 

Unstoppable means thriving: finding the support internally and externally to address each struggle and succeed in doing so. 

How does your piece “Ascending Tiger” communicate the theme of “unstoppable”? 

Ascending Tiger depicts a tiger on its way up a mountain to return to its cave. It’s paused to take in the beauty of the journey home, surrounded by symbols of transformation and vitality. 

Shaping an Artist: Influences, Culture and Inspiration

Artists draw inspiration from many people, places and things throughout their life.

We asked Shao how her art is shaped by her surroundings.

Why did you decide to become an artist? 

I always wanted to be an artist, since I was a child. I’m lucky enough to have had the right people supporting me at the right time to make it where I am. 

How did growing up in Seattle shape your work? 

I incorporate animals and plants from the Pacific Northwest in my work, as well as symbols of the industry and history we have along the water in Seattle – from fish and trees to anchors and ships. Growing up in Seattle instilled a reverence for nature that informs the sensibilities of many of the folk tales and folk art I draw inspiration from.

How has your heritage as a second-generation Chinese American inspired your creativity? 

Being Chinese American is a part of everything I do, like it or not. What I value about it is how it connects me to others like me, inspires me, and brings me closer to my background. 

What do you want the wider world to know about AAPI art, heritage and culture?

It’s very diverse and can look like anything!

Managing the Business Side of Being an Artist

While being an artist is creative and fun, what some may not think of is the logistical business side after the art is created. We got Shao’s take on the business ownership side of her art.

Did the pandemic have an impact on your art or your business relationships?

The pandemic is what allowed me to go full time as an illustrator and muralist. During that time, community and what made all our relationships unique was thrown into focus, which left us all with a new appreciation for connection.

How do you find a balance between following your own vision and creating one for the brands you work with?

Before I begin designing, I clearly define the creative direction and expectations of my client. It saves us both so much trouble in the long run to ask after explicit examples or reservations.

Have other small businesses helped you get your work out to a wider audience?

Some of the first murals I painted were for small businesses that were temporarily closed due to COVID-19. The area I grew up in is tight-knit, and patrons are deliberate about supporting small and local [businesses]. In combination, small businesses and individuals alike have helped to share my work with others.

What tips would you give to someone who is thinking about pursuing art as a career?

It’s not easy, and you learn the most by doing. 

If you could go back in time 5 years, what advice would you give yourself?

Stay the course. You’re exactly who you want to be in the future.

How can people support and promote Asian American and Pacific Islander artists like yourself, and your work?

Follow along on the journey over social media, support passion projects and brand collabs alike, encourage young artists.

Honor and Celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

To learn more about Stevie Shao or her work, Instagram, and make sure to stop by The UPS Store to see her artwork “Ascending Tiger” for yourself.

Looking for other ways to celebrate AAPI Heritage month? Visit a museum to learn more about the history of the heritage month and the Asian American experience. And support Asian American small business owners within your own community by frequenting their stores.

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