A candid conversation with artist Antonius-Tin Bui
“My name is Antonius-Tin Bui, and I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.”
Antonius-Tin Bui, a former University of Houston student, is a queer, nonbinary, Vietnamese-American artist who says their work finds the beauty of being an “intersectional amalgam of history and colonization.”
Twenty-six-year-old Bui was born and raised in the Bronx before moving to the “suburban dystopia” of Sugar Land at 14. Whether putting on homemade fashion shows with their many cousins or working on art projects with their mother, Bui has always been a creative spirit.
“Almost all my aunts and uncles have four kids. Everywhere I’ve lived, it’s always been a party, especially after school,” Bui said.
“I think one of my oldest childhood memories is staying up with my mom to finish diorama projects, just transforming paper, glitter and toys into another dimension. Being able to create a world and tell narratives just using a hot glue gun and a shoebox was always so fascinating to me,” they said.
Journey through community
It’s that very ethos that led Bui back to Houston after attending the Maryland Institute College of Art. They currently have a residency at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, a shrine to the human ability to create fantastical worlds out of the ordinary.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with them at their open-door office to discuss their craft, social practice and path from being a pre-med student at UH to an emerging experimental artist.
We started off discussing their recent event Burning 100 Demons, a Lunar New Year community-focused performance ritual held at the Lawndale Art Center. The event was co-organized by Bui and Ching-In Chen in conjunction with Bui’s current Lawndale exhibit, “yêu em dài lâu (me love you long time).”
“With every single show, you’re allowed to create a program, and I knew that I wanted to definitely collaborate with some of the artists who have taught me so much about the Houston scene,” Bui said.
“I wanted to create an event that would create space for queer AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) folks, since Houston is such a diverse city,” they said. “With this platform, why not create an event that allows us to just slow down, especially in this day and age, and to reflect upon our demons from the past year?”
Much of Bui’s work similarly centers around LGBTQ+ AAPI communities. Their tandem “me love you long time” exhibit is a series of intricate, life-size paper cutout portraits of queer AAPIs in Bui’s inner circle.
“Everyone in that show has shaped my sense of gender and sexuality,” they said of the subjects. “Many of them are artists and activists who have taught me so much about what it means to build community, live an authentic life and how to have intergenerational conversations.”
Collaboration and community is a consistent priority throughout Bui’s life and practice. This much is best exhibited on their major-minor platform, on which Bui interviews and celebrates queer and trans people of color. Their yearning for intergenerational dialogue, however, has been “more of a recent endeavor” for Bui, who just last year visited their parents’ home country of Vietnam for the first time.
“We’re robbed of our history,” they said. “So much of my work and the way I live is an active search for my ancestors, for histories that have been actively erased or bleached.”
Art made by marginalized and oppressed groups has been more widely accepted recently, with many museums actively pushing for more diversity. While Bui recognizes this as vital and empowering to both the artists finally receiving recognition and their communities at large, they remain hesitant of giving blind praise to museums and programs pushing for shallow inclusion.
“I really love that more than ever you see an influx of POC artists and queer artists showing, but I’m really afraid that it just might be a trend,” Bui said. “I wanna see more institutions, instead of just offering temporal opportunities, put people of color in positions of power. Give us a seat at the table, but also provide the seat, and provide the meals and that glass of rosé.”
As the conversation shifted from their current place in the art world to their college years, I was surprised to learn just how much Bui continues to value their previous pre-med undergraduate education.
“I think eventually, as I became more comfortable with myself at MICA, you realize how no class or course ever goes wasted, that everything you learn that semester really informs your future, regardless of whether or not it’s your job or it relates to the major or minor you have,” Bui said.
“I think that throughout my STEM education and time at UH, I really made it a point to cultivate many aspects of myself,” they said.
In fact, Bui is a staunch supporter of blending STEM with the arts through education and collaboration.
“Art is another platform to approach many of the topics STEM covers,” Bui said. “I think now more than ever, collaboration is really important in achieving anything, and so I’m like, okay, how do artists and politicians work together? Artists no longer have the privilege of being apolitical, and I wanna say that no one has the privilege of not being collaborative. I just can’t imagine the world moving forward without intergenerational, intercommunity, inter-everything conversation.”
What’s next for Bui? Their residency at HCCC ends in March, with “yêu em dài lâu (me love you long time)” and “Will You Go to Homecoming With Us?” staying up until the third and first of the month, respectively. After that, they’ll be heading to Saratoga, New York, to do a residency at Yaddo.
As far as advice for other college students goes, Bui said it’s important for individuals to remember that they need to be creative in the ways that best align with their goals and opportunities.
“I understand everyone has to navigate their own lives according to their financial situation, their safety, their need to be independent on their own,” they said. “Cliché as it is, it’s never too late to go for a different dream, but realizing that your life might require a different timeline, or you might have to secure yourself in a certain situation before embarking on a new journey. You should never feel shame for being late, or not late, because you’re never late. Feeling behind is inevitable, but don’t ever apologize for who you are and the way you love yourself.”