New middle school art teacher Ms. Doah Lee embarked on a project, 100 Days of Alphabet, on the first day of the lunar calendar: January 25, 2020. Every day for the next one hundred days, Ms. Lee started with three six-by-six inch pieces of paper and ended with a letter of the Latin alphabet on one sheet of paper, the phrase “Hate Alphabet” on the second, and “* Alphabet” on the third.
“As a non-native English speaker and coming to this country to learn English, I watched a lot of ways people engaged differently with non-native speakers,” Ms. Lee said. “When I was in graduate school, I saw my friends being mistreated for their lack of language ability and accent, and just watching that made me sad.”
Ms. Lee’s perspectives on power imbalances based on language also inspired the project. The open discussion in the seminar class she took on the topic, along with her personal experiences, influenced the purpose and execution of the piece.
“It is open to the audience to interpret ‘What is alphabet?’ and ‘Which alphabet am I talking about?’” Ms. Lee said. “Artists are people who ask questions.”
One of the reasons Ms. Lee became an artist was to communicate with others. For her, art is a language she uses to share her feelings and stories, as well as the best medium she can use and speak.
When history teacher and Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Mr. Brendan Jobs first met Ms. Lee, he was struck immediately by her personality, passion, and creativity. Also, he found Ms. Lee’s Hate Alphabet a daring piece of art.
“My first reaction was, ‘This artwork is brave,’” Mr. Jobs said. “People don’t like to talk about emotions, along with really strong emotions, and she was bringing a whole project around a really strong emotion that people have trouble talking about.”
Mr. Jobs also found Ms. Lee’s character as story-driven. He saw her as someone who thought in a story format, was open to sharing these stories about her life with others, and dedicated to her work.
“I appreciated the fact that every single day I had something to do and accomplish.”Ms. Doah Lee
For this project, Ms. Lee spent three-to-four hours daily to make the three phrases that were a part of her exhibition. Starting by shading the entire piece of paper with a pencil, she painstakingly etched out the words by erasing the marks. However, while tedious, the process helped Ms. Lee through the pandemic.
“It was great to have something like homework to finish,” Ms. Lee said. “I appreciated the fact that every single day I had something to do and accomplish.”
Also, during the pandemic, it was not just a sense of purpose that motivated her to continue the project. The racism and hostile environment towards Asians and Asian-Americans as a result of COVID-19 was the reason why she finished and showcased her work.
“I wanted to show the world that I would never be silenced,” Ms. Lee said. “[The project] was meant to start a conversation and get people to think. When people came up to me at my show and talked about their relationships with the world, I appreciated the fact that my art could help others reflect on their thoughts.”