Arden Yum on The Peahce Project, Quarantine Creativity, and Asian Representation
Updated: Jul 12, 2020
"I think that when one person is facing inequality, we all are set back."
In August of 2019, Arden Yum founded "The Peahce Project," a digital media platform created to share the often untold and underrepresented stories of Asian-Americans. Her great strides for the Asian-American community have been recognized by many, and she now has expanded her team to about 60 people. We had the opportunity to interview Arden about her passion for art and activism, and the story behind The Peahce Project.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! Where are you from initially?
I’m Arden, I’m 17. I was born in New York City and I’ve been here my whole life. I spent last year in Hong Kong and that was the only time I’ve been away from home. I’m a student here and I go to school in Manhattan.
How would you describe The Peahce Project? Is it an organization, a community, etc?
I would say it’s kind of a community and I would also say that it’s a digital media platform where we’re trying to highlight the voices of Asian-Americans. We publish interviews, art, and writing from young people all over the country.
What are some of the most special experiences that have come out of this project for you?
I think it’s definitely the people I’ve gotten to meet. In the beginning I was conducting all of the interviews myself, so I was able to talk to really cool activists, writers, and artists about race and identity, and their relationship with figuring out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. We recently expanded the team, so I got to meet a lot of other Asian creatives who are similar in age and beliefs. We’ve expanded to about 60 people and it’s been so amazing to get to know all of them and to work together towards a common goal of representation.
When did you initially start creating The Peahce Project?
I started last August of 2019, and I kind of had a vague idea of what I wanted to do. I initially wanted to do a lot of interviews with Asian people on the internet, and kind of talk about the digital world that we inhibit and how we’re navigating that. Then it kind of expanded to featuring art and writing as well, so I was doing that by myself until May of this year, when I posted a call on our Instagram to see if anyone wanted to join the team, which was met with an overwhelming response. Now we have a team of staff artists, writers, graphic designers, etc who are doing work for the website. It grew really quickly which I was so excited about.
You’ve been using your platform to advocate for Black Lives Matter. Why is it important for you to uplift other POC?
I think that the issues that Asian-Americans face don't happen in a vacuum, and so many people are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and Asian, or Asian and black, and there are so many intersections. I think it’s really important that we support the Black Lives Matter movement, and I remember when George Floyd was murdered, I was just thinking about all of the anti-blackness in the Asian community, and I really wanted to bring attention to that, and how we can kind of make ourselves be better allies. I hosted a zoom discussion where a bunch of people who wanted to participate talked about the history of racism and how we see it perpetuated in our everyday lives. Since then, we’ve been working to highlight current events and focus on Black Lives Matter, and for pride month we did a bunch of work highlighting LGBTQ+ history and we showed our support to that community through social media as well. I think that when one person is facing inequality, we all are set back.
Is it important for you to keep a youth focused Asian-American based team, or are you planning to expand your staff?
Currently our team is mostly students. I think the youngest is around 13 and the oldest is around 30. We do have a nice age range, and the only people who applied to be a part of our staff have been Asian-American, so I haven’t really come to the point where I’m deciding whether I want that to be the case forever. I’m definitely open to the idea of having multiple people share their perspective and how they see Asian-American issues through a different lens.
How much do you feel like you’ve grown since the start of this endeavor?
It’s really amazing to think about how much I’ve grown. I remember last summer I was sending out like hundreds of emails and getting no responses from people I wanted to interview. It’s just cool to see how many people want to be a part of the community and how this project was kind of what was missing because I didn’t have a lot of representation in the media. I definitely think it’s something that I would have benefitted from so it’s really really cool to see how many other young people are looking at and going on the website right now, and that’s been really humbling.
What creative mediums are you most drawn towards, as you’re also a Youtuber and a photographer.
I started photography in 5th grade and I started my Instagram. I’ve honestly been drawn to it since I was really little, because my dad always had a camera and I would take pictures of my friends. I would say that photography is my first passion in the arts, but during quarantine I’ve had a lot of time to do other stuff. I’ve been painting watercolor a lot. I have paint markers so I’m drawing on photos I’ve been taking, and Youtube is also something I started during quarantine, which I’m not the best at but I love how it almost serves as a time capsule of my life to look back on, even just a few weeks later, to remember what you were doing at that time.
In your photography, it seems that you’re super connected to New York youth culture. Is this a stylistic choice or rather is it to showcase a time capsule of your teenage life, like your Youtube channel?
I feel like my photography is super personal and about my life, and just trying to document that. New York is really close to my heart. In Hong Kong my photography kind of shifted too, so I feel like it is a really true connection of my life, my circumstances, and what I’m thinking.
When you started the project, what was the intention going in? How big did you expect to get? Did you have any preconceived expectations?
I never really thought it was going to get that big at all. I had like 200 followers for many, many months. I started it because I think it would have been really inspiring for me when I was younger if I saw all of these amazing Asian role models that I could read about and look up to and follow. I just really enjoyed all of the conversations I was having, and not really thinking about how it would grow, and I think ironically that’s why it started to grow during quarantine. We just started posting a lot more, and people started responding, which I thought was really cool. We were never really focused on an end goal.
You have about 30k followers on your personal Instagram, so did you have a platform previously, or did that come out of this project?
My followers have been accumulated over a long time, since I started my photography Instagram in 5th grade. A lot of them are really, really old followers of mine. I remembered some of my followers DMed my saying they had been following my page for like 5 years, which was insane. I went to a concert one time and this girl told me she followed me on Instagram, so that was crazy. I’ve recently been focusing a lot on The Peahce Project and not really doing a lot of photography stuff. But I did post some photos that I took this weekend today and I’m hoping to get back into that.
Who are your greatest creative inspirations?
A writer that I really look up to is Jia Tolentino. She’s a staff writer at The New Yorker. I just read her book “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion.” I think she’s so cool and I’m going to interview her in October. I just think she’s really well spoken and I wanna write like her someday. Her essays are amazing. I actually did this video called “Why Am I Obsessed With Skinny White Women?” which kind of unpacked why all of my role models were fitting the same physical description. I grew up really liking Taylor Swift and following these olympic distance runners and I really like Petra Collins’ photography, but I want to broaden my horizons and follow more people of color.
When do you feel most creatively fulfilled?
I honestly think quarantine has been really great for my creativity because I don’t have a lot of other distractions. The stress of school is now significantly decreasing and I’ve had time to almost have an empty head. I have a lot of mediums that I’ve been working with, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been creatively fulfilled. I feel like I’m just always wanting to do more and focusing on the next thing. Quarantine has been really good for just getting the creative juices flowing.
You can follow Arden @peahce and @thepeahceproject on Instagram ; you can visit her youtube channel Arden Yum and you can visit https://thepeahceproject.com/ to learn more information about her organization.