On July 27th, Louie Gong hosted a workshop called “Art and Identity” for Mexican high school students visiting the United States as guests of the U.S. State Department. The workshop took place at the INScape Art Building, formerly the INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) headquarters in Seattle, WA, which is now occupied by artists that aim to preserve and engage its legacy through the arts. The US State Department and Vans also supported the workshop.
Louie, a Seattle-based, mixed race Chinese and Nooksack tribal member known for launching a custom shoe line featuring Coast Salish art through his company Eighth Generation, has been featured in numerous media and even showcased during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Louie shared his experiences as someone who is “walking in two worlds”, and showed the visiting youth how to create a custom shoe that reflects their cultural values and leadership goals.
Although Louie gave a similar workshop to Iraqi youth in 2011, this was the first workshop using Mockups — his DIY art toy over three years in the making — and developed by Louie to make the experience of personalizing a pair of shoes cheaper and less intimidating, and which is now available through this site and in museum gift shops.
Louie is also an official Ambassador for the Vans Custom Culture Arts Program and has worked with the Vans shoe company to get shoes donated for each of the 17 workshop participants. He also has built a following of over 54,000 fans on Facebook.
Louie said: “While you could say it’s ironic that I’m a Native artist hosting a workshop about identity and anti-bullying for Mexican students in the former INS building, I think it’s a rich backdrop for cultural exchange, and a unique opportunity to explore meanings of community, immigration, and citizenship that transcend the polarizing debate we are persistently presented with.”
The Mexican students were in the United States as official guests of the US State Department and as part of Jóvenes en Acción, a five-week exchange program focused on violence prevention and community empowerment coordinated by the World Affairs Council.
Louie, who is also known for his work on issues of racial identity, has been a resource for the International Visitors Program and participated in cultural exchanges with groups from France and Germany. A veteran of over 30 custom shoe workshops, Gong has already shared his work in China, Germany, Canada and all over the United States this year.