The INTO Interview

When It Comes to Art, Multi-Hyphenate Creative Diana Oh Leans Into the Pleasure of It All

· Updated on October 4, 2023

When I spoke with Diana Oh (they/them), they were in a residency in Illinois. They told me that two days into their stay they got a tattoo of a carrot from a tattoo artist Vince Aguilar. While to some this feels irrelevant, to Oh, the tattoo reaffirmed their place in the world as an artist. A student they met during their residency inspired Oh to get the tattoo after they conversed about auras.

“When they first met me, they saw orange on the bottom and green on top, like a carrot,” recalled Oh. “And so they told their therapist, and their therapist was like, ‘Oh, is this a traveling performer that heals people?’ and they were like, ‘Oh, that makes sense because orange is like creativity and green is logic.’”

Oh isn’t just an artist, to them, they’re a vessel for the art that feels good to them and healing for others. The multi-hyphenate artist uses their art to draw in audiences as if they were in a one-on-one conversation, an effort they call “spellcasting”, which is a practice inspired by their friend theatre maker and filmmaker Mei Ann Teo. As a performer, musician, singer, songwriter, director of their own work, as well as a maker of installations, performances, concerts, and parties, Oh thinks of themselves as an open channel or conduit for the art that feels good to their body. They’re driven by pleasure, mutual care, and ensuring that things always come from their heart.

“My friend, Mei Ann Teo, who’s an amazing artist, helped me learn this language of casting a spell for the folks in the room,” explained Oh. “One can say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s theater. Oh, my gosh, it’s live performance. For me, that’s really putting together something with a beginning, middle, and end with a lot of different nuances in it to give you an intimate, personal experience that will make you feel, laugh, cry, sweat.”

While Oh may not be as well-known as the high-profile folks within their community, such as Dead Ringers’ Poppy Liu, Everything Everywhere All At Once’s Stephanie Hsu, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s William Jackson Harper, who they have a band with called The US Open, they have a stellar resume nevertheless. They’re a Refinery29 Top LGBTQ+ Influencer, Van Lier Fellow in Acting, Venturous Capital Fellow, Sundance Institute Fellow, and a Helen Merrill Award recipient. But at the core, they’re an artist whose artistry is designed to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate those with marginalized identities. 

“I’ll always see them as people who are magical and awesome,” said Oh. “And I know magical can be a triggering word, but I really mean that in the sense of an empowering thing where I just see them as powerful. All I want to do is empower, celebrate, and liberate.”

To Oh, the act of creating art is fun, therapeutic, powerful, and something to be shared, but it’s also a medium that allows them to call out the stereotypes bestowed upon the Asian community, examine society’s relationship to the bodies of women, nonbinary folks, and trans femmes, and create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ folks. In 2016, they wrote and directed a PSA titled Asians Aren’t Magicians, which tackles the biases and falsities placed on the Asian community, but specifically zeroes in on how the Asian diaspora isn’t a monolith using first-person accounts from Asian artists, like Oh, Teo, and Hsu. Their 2017 play {my lingerie play} confronted viewers with multi-genre theatre performance/concert/installation that forced gender politics and society’s relationship to it in order to create a safer and more courageous world for women, queer, trans, and nonbinary humans. In 2019, inspired by a New Year’s Eve sex party in New York City, Oh hosted a barefoot potluck dinner and dance party aimed at affirming and celebrating people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and allies, while creating a space uniquely their own to do so. 

Doing these interviews and getting the feedback and seeing what people take away, that is the takeaway. I’m just happy that there is a takeaway.

Diana Oh

Like performing music, providing spaces of this nature fits into Oh’s ideology on art. 

“Dancing on the dance floor is always going to feel really good to me,” Oh said. “Providing that space for people is always going to feel really good to me.”

And while they also make time to play with their indie-rock band, The US Open, they’ve also found time to create their own concert. The Oh Family Concert, as it’s called, is a dedication and celebration of the seven decades of people within Oh’s family. The intimate performance was paired with a film that highlighted the development of the concert, while highlighting their relationship to music, art, and their mother, June. 

Oh’s film is a part of the ALL ARTS 2023 Kate W. Cassidy Artist in Residence program, designed to support creatives as they bring their artistic vision to life through film. In collaboration with the Obie Award-winning performance space HERE and the concert’s producer Erica Rotstein, Oh was able to bring their film and concert to fruition. 

“To capture this and hold this immense amount of space for my voice and my artistry and my family, that took generosity on someone else’s end to see that,” said Oh. “And then once [Erica] saw that, I was able to have a little more confidence and be like, ‘Okay, yeah, I want this moment. This matters.’”

When the film launched in April, Oh hadn’t processed the extent of the concert and what they took away from it. But in our interview, they were able to reflect on the process of bringing the project to life. 

“Doing these interviews and getting the feedback and seeing what people take away, that is the takeaway,” said Oh. “I’m just happy that there is a takeaway.”

For Oh, their concert was a dedication to their family and the freedom to express themselves, but it also adds to the Asian representation that the industry is starved for. Films like Everything Everywhere All at Once provided a huge step in providing Asian representation in film. According to the 2022 Entertainment Diversity Progress Report by Luminate, only 1.8% of the movies released in 2022 focused on Asian narratives. 

While the Oh Family Concert operates as documentary and EEAAO is fiction, the connection they share is the depiction they both have of the relationship between queer children and their parents, specifically their mothers, within an Asian family. Both films highlight the dreams and hopes that the parent has for their child, but also differences between them that can lead to misunderstandings. Yet in the end, both films highlight the bond between the parent and their child, strengthened through the love they have for each other. 

As a multi-hyphenated performer, Oh dabbles in a variety of art forms. As someone who proclaimed that a regular 9-5 wasn’t for them, they’re no stranger to self-awareness nor being authentically themselves. Hollywood worked for some of their fellow actor friends, but for Oh, it wasn’t the right fit for their artistry. So they intentionally pulled back from this sect of the industry. 

Diana Oh and their mother, June

“It’s a miracle they did it. And they have their integrity, their personality. They didn’t compromise who they are. They’re the same people who I know as homies,” said Oh. “And I also know that I made an intentional pullback from that industry because I want to preserve my energy. There’s just something about needing to create. I need to create in this corner over here. I need to get my sticks and see what happens.”

For Oh, the act of creating art is healing, as is being authentically themselves and they don’t take either lightly. Apart from using art as a mode of expression they use a boundaries journal to keep them courageous in protecting their energy and asking for what they need. Additionally, they use tattoos as a means of expression, similar to the art they create. And while they are making art to ensure that other marginalized folks feel seen, others are busy seeing them. ♦

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