Community, Stories

Chinoy Creatives: Kenny Tai on the realities of a Chinoy artist

It is already established that pursuing the arts is not one of the Chinoy community’s favored “practical” careers. Nevertheless, one’s passion in life will and should always reign over traditional norms and thinking of the past.

Despite this, choosing to follow one’s passion is not the end of the road to a fulfilled life. It is just the first step on a journey. Take it from Kenny Tai, a Chinoy artist who pursued her passion for the arts and shared the rough patches she had to go through.

Growing up in a typical Chinoy community

Tai was born into a close knit family–a mix of first to second generation immigrants and locally born Chinoys just like her. No stranger to the Chinoy societal structure that gives high importance to family hierarchy, patriarchy, and business, it was a surprise that her family did not totally contradict her desire to pursue the arts, although they were not the biggest fans of it either.

“They were never supportive, but they tolerated,” she said. 

Ever since she was a child, Tai had always shown her interest for art, which slowly suggested to her family her inclination towards it. “I remember my mother told me that when I was two, she caught me staring at a printed t-shirt design while she was shopping in a department store; she already had a clue of my interest. When my parents are working at the office, I would be in the corner drawing anything from my imagination to Super Sentais, anime, and western cartoons. The decision to pursue art after high school was already made aware at my early age and non-negotiable to the family,” she shared.

Passion over tradition and the challenges that come with it

Despite her not-typical decision to become an artist, Tai still pursued her passion. For her, the pull to express one’s uniqueness is greater than the traditions she grew up in. “Looking outside my bubbled community gives me curiosity to explore and drop all that traditional baggage to express individuality, and to tell or share stories,” Tai said.

Choosing a creative career is just the beginning as you also have to be ready to accept all the baggage that comes with it. For Tai, she was no exception to the struggles of an artist, even more so in relation to her Chinoy roots.

Given the high value placed on the family as a Chinoy, she was expected to comply without fail to all the design “favors” that her family asked from her and of course, to be done as soon as possible, free-of-charge, with unlimited revisions. “If you do anything otherwise from the mentioned requirements, wala kang utang na loob,” she shared.

She would also be asked how much she makes being an artist and would get compared to other careers. There was also the never-ending badger of taking over the family business and making babies for the parents, all of which Tai gracefully handled.

She is also no stranger to the creative block just like any other artist. During these small moments, she would resort to sleep, drinking tea, and cleaning the house– pretty much anything that says solitude.

Fruits of pursuing one’s passion

With everything that she has been through, Tai continues to practice in the arts today as she specializes in illustration, design, and animation which mostly suggest a mood of contemplation, nostalgia, and simplicity. 

Auntie in Lexus buying fruits in Binondo

Truly, pursuing her passion for art has bore fruits as Tai has bagged numerous awards for her unique and exceptional pieces. This includes her work, ‘Love and Marriage’ which won the Animahenasyon 2008 Grand Prize and “Serenitea Tea Dance” & “Max’s Restaurant” which was an Adobo Design Awards 2013 Bronze Awardee in Animation Broadcast Category.

Love & Marriage Animation
Screenshot of an early work of the artist about the controversial Chinese-Filipino relationship

She was also entrusted the animation and the director for Kate Torralba’s music video “Pictures” (2015) and Itchyworms’ “Out of Time” (2016), as well as collaborated with the late Carlos Celdran as graphic designer and animator on “Manila Biennale” and “La Vida Imelda Show” both in 2018.

She has also worked as designer and illustrator for big brands such as Serenitea, Infinitea, Black Scoop, Nuki Churros and Gelato and Ramen Shokudo.

Tai is also a heritage advocate and for her, Being Chinoy is not just about celebrating Chinese New Year and good food, being Chinoy means preserving heritage not only within the community but also around it. By this, knowing both sides of history and being self-aware of one’s privilege and disadvantages,”. With this, it is very clear in her creative pieces that it always reflects her Chinoy roots.

Chinese New Year Stickers
Every year, she releases Chinese New Year stickers to share and celebrate the occasion for fellow Chinoys and non-Chinese Filipinos.

Message for aspiring artists

For those who aspire to become like Tai, she shares a few pieces of helpful advice.

The phrase “struggling artist” is not just an expression– it is a reality, so expect that the artistic journey is not always rainbows and butterflies. “Be prepared for a life marathon. While pursuing a passion and hearing all the success stories of others seems romantic, the inevitability of financial instability, censorship, artistic insecurity, ceaseless upgrade of technology, and the lack of respect on artist intellectual properties may hinder your creative journey if you rely too much on your right brain,” she said.

Manila Girls Animation

Currently, Tai is working on her personal project, “Manila Girls”. The illustrated series is a social commentary on Metro Manila, Filipino society and a bit of history, all portrayed through the personification of each district, area, or streets within or around the city. She is also collaborating with heritage advocates such as Renacimiento Manila, Heritage Collective, Chinoy Life, and Wander Manila in tours, art markets, and festivals.

Posters from the past and upcoming tours and collaborations with respective heritage advocates


Panciteria de Macanista y Buen Gusto

A concept art of the still standing structure in Binondo that was mentioned in Chapter 25, El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal. Tai visualizes the idea of adaptive-reuse of the 1880 structure to give awareness of heritage preservation to the public and the city’s story that indicates the existence of the Chinoy community.

Tai also notes the importance of having true content gives creative maturity to an artist rather than following what’s on the trend and making a fanart out of it. “Stay creatively healthy and develop content that is true to you,” she said.

Lastly, Tai advises to have a support group of friends or organizations that are like-minded to keep you sane.

With this, Kenny Tai’s story as a Chinoy artist is a clear manifestation that being a creative Chinoy is not something to be suppressed by tradition, but something to be celebrated in the modern community today.

Stay updated with Kenny Tai and her artworks by following her socials:

Leave a Reply