Brandwash questions systems built by large corporations; branding, consumerism, capitalism, social stratification, and politics. My experience as a CEO of a design firm and designing products for corporations over a decade have helped various businesses with branding. I loved what I did because I thought what I was doing through branding was adding value to the products and compelling the consumers to consume; it was all splendid. I thought being a designer was my natural vocation and I was fine with accepting my role, as I ‘ployed’ for the businesses.

However, through academic life and observing business practices from a distance, I started questioning.

Is branding really about the product and business’ value? How much of it is snake oil and used to manipulate consumers into paying more? What is the true purpose of businesses and what does it mean to pursue profits? 

These questions spawned many more questions in my mind about our system, philosophical dilemmas about “business” itself, and my own faced dilemmas while running a business. 

The primary reason I moved to the U.S., was to expand my business. But I found myself standing in front of the biggest question I’m faced with today: Why is expanding business better than not?

It’s almost an automatic response to think that expansion is a positive thing for companies, but what we end up having is a cycle that merely plays into a capitalists’ game: Go global, expand the market, exploit the market where it’s possible, and that allows more churning of profits. But most often, it is the powerful corporations and their stock holders that benefits the most. On the other hand, the members of society that belongs to a marginalized group or the indigenous end up being worse off than they started (while corporations will insist that that is not the case). Small companies like mine and consumers like myself are pretty much there to help the already powerful; the purpose of branding is to create more desires to consume. 

I hope Brandwash will raise dialogues about consumerism and create opportunities to think about money and power. It is quite the irony that In order to make these products, I purchased these materials from Amazon and as a result empowered the chain of production ran by the corporations.

the game of BUSINESS

2018, Digital print, Box: 3" x 3" x 1", Game board: 10" x 10"

Sweatshop usage, misleading advertisements that are borderline false, industrial waste, exploitation, bribes, and so forth. Many unethical conducts have been exposed to the public, yet it seems that unethical business practices are still very common, and under the radar, so much so that debunking them won’t hurt or stop the businesses.  Through art, I wanted to question at the fundamental level, what business and its purpose is.  Because I believe that the true principle of business is to make the world a better place. I am disheartened when I find out about big businesses, with lives of many people at stake, purposely marching forward in the path of destruction, if that path leads it to making a profit. But profit making at the price of what cost? In this game, the players are allowed to make choices, but essentially forced/coerced to make unethical choices in order to move forward. It shows how “making profits” is intertwined with “making unethical choices”. As a designer and a business person, I would like to stay the course as an ethical person, while morally align with the belief that success is a good thing. But this game paints a picture that is much more grim, rendering my belief as impossible.

The Secret of Affirmative Action

2018, Video, 13 minutes 11 seconds

“The Secret of Affirmative Action” is a documentary video that contains interviews from professors of UC Berkeley and experts talking about “Affirmative Action”.

“If affirmative action is race based access to institutional resource opportunity, when was it registrated? – 1618.  Is this affirmative action: if you’re White you get 50 acres of land, 30 shillings, 10 bushels of corn and a musket solely based on the color of your skin (not for any other reason)? What about the naturalization act of 1790 that says, If you’re White you can become a citizen. It’s not about anything except the color of your skin, not merit, not hard work, not meeting the criteria; just being White, the color of your skin. You have access to a loan, you have access to a neighborhood; ‘You can live in this neighborhood if you’re White’. So was this country built on affirmative action for White people?”

– Deena Hayes-Greene of the Racial Equity Institute on Podcast ‘Seeing White’

Package Manipulation

2017, Adobe Illustrator, Styrofoam tray, Cereal, Paper.

I designed a packaging like a cereal box for a Broccoli and in opposite, placed cereals in a tray like the way vegetables are sold at the market. This juxtaposition depicts how the food industry encourages us to consume foods that are more profitable for them but rather unhealthy for consumers.

Professor Michael Pollan at UC Berkeley had said in his documentary (IN DEFENSE OF FOOD), “The healthy foods are quiet, so buy the quiet foods in the market. Don’t buy the products with more than five ingredients, or any ingredients you can’t easily pronounce”.  What he meant by that was, for example, vegetables do not have fancy packagings with giant list of ingredients. On the other hand, foods that are at the center aisle, where normally processed foods are placed, are in boxes and bags decorated with flashy marketing phrases, but contains a list of ingredients that you can’t easily pronounce. Cereal boxes are great examples of “noisy” food. They often claim things like “Great source of fiber!”, “Tons of Vitamin B!”, “Helps lower cholesterol”. However, Broccoli has 7 times more Vitamin C than a glass of Orange Juice (commonly known as ‘great source of Vitamin C’), 10 times more fiber than a bowl of Cheerios, and a lot of more nuturitions – Vitamin A, vitamin B6, B12, vitamin K, magnesium, iron… the list goes on. Food for thought: One that has the most, speaks the least.

No Such Thing as a Perfect Life

2018, 11" x 17", Digital Print on paper, Illustrator, Photoshop

This piece is an extension of the social media critique series that I began with the SAYONARA SOCIAL MEDIA kit. This piece depicts how content creators often fabricate their ‘social media worthy’ pictures. What we see on the walls of Instagram can be completely false, yet users are often ignorant to that fact or act indifferent to being lied to, as long as it’s the Photo alteration app that’s doing the lying.

Influencer, depicts a social media ‘influencer’ literally composing a picture of a beautiful breakfast table. The irony I wanted to show was the area outside of the frame. The table is a mess. Yet, the message has something to do with having a picture perfect morning table, which to me is the same as a scam.

She Does Anything To Get Likes (added mosaic for privacy reasons), depicts an influencer in bikini composing the perfect beach day picture. The picture again is a composition, designed to make the viewers believe that the picture was taken at a resort-worthy sandy beach. The reality is, it was taken on a cold day not fit for a bikini, hence the sweatpants bottom, and it was taken at a shabby lake, not the beach.

This piece rides on the social media critique series that I began with the SAYONARA SOCIAL MEDIA kit. I decided to create a sculpture that depicts 3 monkeys that hear/see/do no evil. I replaced their actions with Post/Share/Follow, which I believe are the 3 main actions a user can make, that allows the Social media machine to keep thriving.

32 Starbucks Drinks

Oil Painting on canvas, 30" x 24", 2019

This is an appropriation piece of Andy Warhol’s painting, “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans”. Warhol hand painted all the soup cans though the actual soup can’s packaging was machine replicated. Both his piece and mine invites the audience to think about mass-production/consumerism, mass produced art and its threshold of graphic design.
To make this piece, I also hand painted each of the Starbucks cups, which is now the “everyday object” in our environment.
I also used a vinyl cutter to make the logos/emblems so I did not have to do that with my hands, and used liquid silicon to stick them on the paintings; ironically, making part of the process of producing, machine based.

16″ x 20″ Foam Board

Obesity and food waste are issues related to the U.S. food industry’s business ethos, precisely because it stems from it; even global warming is accelerated by it. In these poster series, I wanted to address and spread the awareness about the problematic U.S. food industry.

The series was inspired by the looks of documentary posters.
I was moved by the film Food Inc., how it depicted factory farming.
The way cows have become products, processed on belt-conveyor style production, sold at grotesque mass scale while producing grotesque scale of waste, all justified by profit, disgusted me but at the same time gave me energy to protest it.

Wood, steel wire, spray paint, nuts and bolts, ribbon, blue foam, acrylic sheet, 30″x30″x40″

As a foreigner, I have my native language. When I think of something to say in English, it takes me some processing before I say it out loud because I first need to convert the language in my mind. There are numerous times when I’ve found myself in an uncomfortable predicament because the tendency in the dominant culture encourages one to “speak up” and share often.
It seems in the Western culture, extroverts are more rewarded and praised than the introverts. A narrative such as, those that speak up are those that have an opinion and therefore have a thought, seems to be embedded in the status quo. But I’ve become weary to such one way thinking because in many cases it manifests premature thoughts irresponsibly getting thrown around in the room.

Where I’m from, those who speak up too quickly are chattery and seen mindless, as in, shallow thinkers are the ones that tend to “speak up” throwing around pretentious keywords. To give an example which happens at a work place setting, the loud mouths are the ones that usually stop their hands because they are too busy with speaking up and sharing opinions. The quiet ones, on the other hand, deliver the goods, which seems much cooler to me.

Strangely, I was never labeled an introvert, but that changed when I came to the United States. To be clear, I still don’t consider myself an introvert, but because I process my thoughts before uttering, I often lose the timing or the window of opportunity to “speak up”, and that might come across as being introverted. People might see me as a reserved person or a person that “does not have a thought”. But I’d like to say this to the person who passes such judgement on me, just because I don’t speak up, it doesn’t mean that I am a mindless person.
This art piece is a counterargument to those who overly praise extroverted behaviors, and it is a critique of such social tendency.

Same Name Different Game

2017, Game Package: Adobe Illustrator, Felt, Cardboard. Plastic model (Cows): Prototyping resin, Carbon 3D printing, Sharpie. Posters: Adobe Illustrator.

The artwork addresses how problematic industrialized farming is and how it negatively affects us and the environment. Generally, when we hear the word “farm”, we tend to think of something like the image on the packaging of the game here called “Happy Farm”. However, the reality is more like the other game here called “Factory Farm”. I wanted to create something that visually compares the two types of farming and make the audience become more aware of the stark reality.

Laser cutting ply wood, inkjet printing stickers and papers, iron printed gloves, laminated paper, 15.5″x13″x5.5″.

Social media is like a drug. It’s a very useful tool when you know how to use it, but it can become very dangerous if you use it improperly. It’s designed to be addictive, so it’s very natural for you to become hooked and it can be very hard to get away from.

Believe it or not, “Social media addiction” can be more addictive than alcohol, cocaine, or tobacco. I wanted to show through this piece social media’s addictive nature and how seriously it should be handled.

The kit includes:
1. Suggestions “DELETE APPS” – so that you can’t access it
2. “GLOVE” – so that you can’t type on your phone
3. “OUTLET COVER” – so that you can’t recharge it
4. “WATER” – so that you can destroy your phone
5. “LOG HOUSE”- so that you can stay away from it
6. “DRUGS” – so that you can forget about it