You Need Experience to Gain Experience: Beijing Adventures

By Sophia Kayafas (MFA 2016)

Me in the sunflower garden
I called my mother and told her I was hoping for a residency. She was of course very excited for me and after asking many questions she jokingly added with a hint of loving fret, "Oh God, I hope they don't send you to China!"

I laughed with her.

And as I unhurriedly boarded the plane, I was still managing to reluctantly accept my good fortune.

Oh God. They're really sending me to China.

I realize now that the stagnant panic I felt, was just my mind's feeble reflex to the idea of possible discomfort. Though it seems that this very concept has been a beautiful overarching theme during our trip in many ways. It has been about more than painting and sight seeing. It has affected our self awareness, mind sets, our bodies, and tested our hearts with a dramatic, and all-consuming game change.

Mysterious rabbit in 798 District. We saw William Kentridge's Exhibition

New friends

New, Beautiful, Weird, Gross, Confusing, Alien, Complex, Overwhelming, Awesome, Hilarious, Polluted, Inspiring, Large, Pungent, Ridiculous, Traditional, Exhaustive, Graceful, Hot, Powerful, Intelligent, Loud, Human, Terrifying, Delicious, Mystical, Different

These are just a few words I have used repeatedly to describe my China experience since I arrived here three weeks ago and began adapting.

These words are pretty exciting to me because they are an honest measure of change, and I think that change is exactly what art is all about.

Our first authentic Beijing meal

Playing an Ancient Instrument of Earth and Sky called Guqin

Pong Pong, Taylor, Daniela, and part of Ben's arm

Being here has forced us out of our comfort and familiarity, and has required us to become quite helpless, confused, and overwhelmed in many aspects of daily life.

Change has asked us to be brave, curious, open minded, humble, creative, responsive, and positive as we seek answers and solutions in the unknown.


The studio mascot cheers us on!

A documentary moment crossing the street

Adventures with Melody

As for me, I feel all the new experiences are echoing in my work. For the first time I feel unafraid to enjoy the discomfort of searching for the answers in making images. Im embracing the change! For once I realize how much I have to say and paint about. I find myself in the studio each day with my own self, my own problems, and no distractions. China has forced a mirror and a microscope on me and I find myself unabashedly defining what I see.

I feel like I am actually beginning to enjoy this crazy ride my work is taking me on and in an amazing way, my own paintings have become a metaphorical life raft.

Barbeque seafood place that ended Ben's stomach the first time
Crossing the street on the way to school

Daniela and me

I know it's not over yet, but I can already say that this trip was exactly what I needed and I am so incredibly thankful for it. I am glad I know this before it's over, because I am embracing all the change and newness with open arms. There is so much to learn and take away from this incredible adventure.

And here is my juicy episode update.

We laugh.

We cry.

We are working hard and sweating hard. Unfortunately the two are unrelated.

Poor Ben..his stomach says so much about him. He's tough, but stubborn. When he isn't indisposed, he's eating exactly what makes him sick.

Taylor is tall and hilarious. He walks and talks at a super human pace and never stops hoping in vein that the Chinese will understand what the word "vegetarian" means.

Daniela is so sweet and determined, always laughing; and often an anchor of sanity when I'm confused with work.

We are all bonding and laughing and eating and working together all the time.

We have made some great friends who have shown us more than the ropes, Pong-Pong, Melody, Ian, Zhe-Zou, and Quentin have been taking good care of us.

I bought a bunny from a street vendor. Yes, to keep as a pet.. and everyone keeps making jokes about eating it.  Mostly the Chinese kids.  His name is Huasheng - Peanut in Mandarin

We have plans for some much needed spa time and The Great Wall this weekend. Wish us luck.

More updates soon to come! WOOHOO!

Best art store!

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