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Local Artist and Sasaki Designer Prakkamakul Paints Mural in Boston’s Chinatown

Ponnapa Prakkamakul, the artist, stands with her completed
Ponnapa Prakkamakul, the artist, stands with her completed "Where We Belong" mural. Photo by Katy Rogers.

Local artist and Sasaki landscape architect Ponnapa “Gift” Prakkamakul, ASLA brought cultural celebration, socio-political commentary, and striking color to a historic street in Boston’s Chinatown with a new mural commissioned by Oxford Properties Group, in partnership with Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC).

Bringing along Sasaki designers as well as other volunteers from the Chinatown and greater Boston community to help with painting the Chinese messages from ACDC’s A-VOYCE Youth, Prakkamakul completed the 150-foot mural on Oxford Street over the holiday weekend. The temporary mural activates a historic side street off of Essex Street—just steps from Sasaki’s new office at 110 Chauncy Street.

“By having residents take over pieces of the public spaces, it’s one way for us to reclaim Chinatown“ says Angie Liou, Executive Director of ACDC in an interview with Channel 5 News. “We can no longer afford to live here. Where do we belong?…Where do Chinese Americans and Asian Americans belong in [the] City of Boston?”

Prakkamakul’s mural provides an entry-point for that conversation within the broader context of a national ongoing reflection on how communities of color are accepted as belonging—or not belonging—within America. The mural, which is painted on the wall of the former Ho Toy Noodle Company, shows twisting noodles turning into a mighty dragon. The many interpretations the mural conjures is one of  the artist’s favorite aspects of the project. “Sometimes if you see things too close…you don’t see the full picture.” For Prammakul, inspiring many perspectives to percolate among diverse communities through her art is a meaningful way to open up dialogue.

Check out the full interview with Prakkamukul and Liou on Channel 5 News, for more:

New mural represents culture, tradition of Chinatown

Read on for more details in a release from Oxford Properties and ACDC:

The inspiration for Where We Belong is derived from the history of the building, once occupied by the popular Ho Toy Noodle company, and its beloved owner Jeffrey Wong. The mural features dishes overflowing with twisting and turning noodles along the wall, culminating in a bright, red dragon. Along the noodles, the mural’s story and the community’s commentary are written in Chinese and English translation

“My passion is art and empowering and uplifting voices in the community. I am pleased to see how the local community has embraced this project, and were willing to share their personal stories, family memories and traditions. The youths in the Chinatown community are critical for bettering society, and we wanted to make sure their voices were heard, as well,” expressed Thai artist and landscape architect Ponnapa Prakkamakul. “The meaning behind the name is in response to the gentrification in Chinatown, not only to the Chinese community, but all nationalities – that this is a neighborhood where they belong. I hope this mural creates a sense of place for local residents and inspires passerby to feel that they can help contribute to the community where they belong.”

Noodles play a significant role in Chinese culture and encompass many different symbolic representations. The noodles in Where We Belong exemplify connectivity, contributions, and identity. The meaning behind the Chinese name for the art mural reflects on belonging and a place to call home. The first part 歸屬; “gui shu” means “to belong” or a “sense of belonging”, and the second part 歸宿; “gui su” means “home”, “a place to return to”, or “a destination/support”.

“Ponnapa’s mural celebrates and reinforces Chinatown’s history and identity of the neighborhood,” said Angie Liou, Executive Director at Asian Community Development Corporation. “Organizing community-centered public artwork like ‘Where We Belong’ is part of ACDC’s creative placekeeping strategy to preserve Chinatown’s history, culture, and resident voices to combat displacement and gentrification, especially along the edges of Chinatown. Thank you, Ponnapa, as we are working to create a dialogue for old and new residents about what it means to be part of Chinatown, and to foster a sense of common community.”

To develop the artwork, Ponnapa collected anecdotes about the business and the neighboring community with a special focus on youth voices from ACDC’s A-VOYCE program. Ponnapa collaborated with Judy Wong, calligraphy artist and Chairman of Chinese Calligraphy Association of Boston, to translate some of the commentary onto the mural to tell personal memories and family traditions about noodles, whether it be the first dish that someone ever made, how it brings someone a sense of nostalgia or how noodles are a part of a specific celebration in someone’s life.

“We strive to create welcoming places that support community identity and pride. We are thrilled to have had this opportunity to help create a vibrant mural to bring new energy to this corner of the neighborhood, and we couldn’t have done it without Asian Community Development Corporation,” said Mark McGowan, Vice President, Boston Head of Development at Oxford Properties Group. “Thank you to Ponnapa Prakkamakul for sharing her exquisite talent and inspiration. We hope Ponnapa’s artwork brings an element of positivity and joy to all who pass by.”

Where We Belong is a temporary art mural and can be viewed at any time of day.

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