"Anyone can call themselves a Creative Director, but it takes history with a team to honor and trust you with that title. So here we are: an experienced and enthusiastic Creative Director named Janelle Quibuyen." — janellequibuyen.com
Janelle Quibuyen, creative director at Hood Famous Bakeshop, a small Seattle bakery with a big heart and a delicious ube cheesecake, didn't always consider herself an artist.
"I had these preconceived notions about what that's supposed to look like and what that means. If I'm not a fine artist or a trained artist making a living from it, you're not really an artist," she says.
Growing up in a Filipino household also shaped Quibuyen’s perception of what an artist should be. Pursuing art wasn't encouraged, ringing true with most first-generation immigrant families who regard economic stability with pursuits of being a lawyer, a doctor, a nurse. Art wasn't considered a serious career path, rather if "you want to draw for fun, go for it," she recalls.
Born in Hawaii, Quibuyen and her family moved to Bremerton when she was two years old because of her father's service in the Navy. Around this time, she recalls her earliest creative forays.
"I've always been into art and drawing. My very first memories are drawing random things and handwriting notes for my dad, who was out at sea."
But it wasn't always smooth sailing. Discouraged from pursuing a career in art, she attended the University of Washington for a year. She found value in the American Ethnic Studies and Filipino history classes but decided to drop out without declaring a major.
At a crossroads, Quibuyen always knew that she wanted to pursue art and design. It wasn't until becoming involved with a local Filipino youth organization that she was introduced to the intersection of art and social justice.
"Designing for me was always a tool of communication,” she said.
Designing flyers for community organizations afforded her a compromise with her parents, who eventually understood she could forge a design career. Quibuyen applied to a graphic design and illustration program at Seattle Central College, where she picked up a job designing posters for campus events.
"Graphic design is my passion," she says in her Twitter bio.
As part of the recent Inktober month-long art challenge, she produced a series of artworks centered on Filipino history and inspired by Filipino-American tattoo artist Tino "Rosie" Camanga. The series started with an illustration called "Look with your eyes, not with your mouth," based on a Filipino folktale about a lazy, spoiled kid who turns into a pineapple with a thousand eyes.
Other works highlight the contribution and impact of Filipino culture on America's history, depicting Filipino boxers and nurses, and Filipino spaghetti, to name a few. It all ties into U.S. imperialism and how Filipino-American history is glossed over in American textbooks and largely forgotten.
I am awed by the artwork, but it is Quibuyen’s humility and sense of humor that I most appreciate. I can relate to her humility. A nontraditional career path breeds a different type of artist: confident but full of self-doubt.
She touches on imposter syndrome, that persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
"Being a brown woman from a working-class immigrant family that couldn't see art as a career planted a lot of doubts for me personally," she says.
But she is redefining what it means to be an artist.
“Visual art is what we think of when we hear the word ‘artist,’ but creativity lives everywhere. Being an artist is much like being a working-class immigrant — you use creativity to create something merely out of nothing, sometimes just your imagination and will. That’s what being an artist means to me: exercising imagination, having the courage to dream, and bringing that into fruition, even when it doesn’t look conventional."
Silong Chhun is a multimedia artist and the co-founder of the Khmer Anti-Deportation Advocacy Group, a community effort that advocates, supports and provides resources for community members. This story is part of KNKX’s Artists Among Us series of profiles highlighting creatives around the region who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color — written by local creatives who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color.