Vivian Peng took part in C4AA’s 2016 Queens Arts Action Academy, supported by the National Endowment of the Arts in partnership with the Queens Museum. She is a visual artist and activist, and is currently a communications manager at Doctors Without Borders. With a masters in public health informatics from Columbia University, her specialty lies in using design to raise awareness and inspire dialogue on the social and political barriers to building healthy populations. She generously shared some of her story and work with us. Photo of Vivian Peng by Edwin Torres.
How did your story begin as a artistic activist?
When I started as an intern for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) six years ago, I was pretty quiet and the team knew me only as a public health grad student, not as an artist. Secretly on my own, I started drawing graphics for our social media messages, and casually showed them to my supervisor. “What do you think of these?” I’d ask, hoping she would post them online. Slowly, my artwork started appearing in our social media feeds and people in the office got to know my creative side. That’s when the Access Campaign, MSF’s advocacy campaign for essential medicines, began to commission my work. It was my first time getting to use my creative skills towards public health causes that I cared deeply about. I was fascinated by how this team of medical staff, lawyers, activists, and journalists worked together to bring about change. Over the years, I continued to work for the Access Campaign and had many opportunities to use art for advocacy. This way of working opened up a whole world of possibilities, and helped me realize my purpose in creating art.
How did you come to know C4AA’s work?
In my previous position as the digital officer for Doctors Without Borders, I was running a campaign called A Fair Shot. The goal of our campaign was to lower the price of the pneumonia vaccine to $5 per child for all humanitarian organizations and developing countries. One day, we spent a couple hours brainstorming an action for the upcoming World Pneumonia Day, but we felt completely stuck. We tried so many different actions in the past year, it was difficult to come up with new ways to engage our audience and put pressure on the stakeholders.
I got back to my desk and literally Google searched “Artistic Activism,” hoping to get some inspiration. The first result that appeared was C4AA’s website. I got lucky, because C4AA had just put out a call for applications to participate in the workshop. I filled out my application immediately.