Meet the local artists behind our Asian Changemakers series

CBC Calgary highlighted the rich heritage and contributions of Asian Calgarians through a series of 10 self-profiles to mark Asian Heritage Month in May. Now, we're introducing you to the artists behind the project.

Esther Cho and Zoe Harveen Kaur Sihota are the artists behind the Asian Heritage Month project

The 2022 Asian Changemakers series highlighted stories of legacy, heritage and cultural pride from Calgary’s Asian communities. (Zoe Harveen Kaur Sihota/CBC)

May is Asian Heritage Month. To celebrate, CBC Calgary highlighted the rich heritage and contributions of Asian Calgarians through a series of 10 profiles throughout the month. We welcomed nominations of diverse individuals with different goals and interests, and a common commitment to giving back to the community. Through an internal voting process, CBC Calgary staff selected the Asian Changemakers for 2022 and asked them each to write a self-profile. Here's more on the artists behind the project:

Esther Cho, Photographer 

My name is Esther, and I am a freelance portrait photographer with a passion for creative expression. I strive to create tangible ways for people to share themselves with the world and to visually communicate ideas and emotions when words are not enough. Above all this, I am an advocate for equal representation and actively work to showcase the beauty and power of diversity. A photo is more than light on paper, it is an avenue to and from the soul, and I hope to embody this concept through my work and to create something authentic for people to engage with.

I was born and raised here in Calgary after my two amazing parents immigrated to Canada from South Korea in 1974. Historically, North Korea and South Korea have had countless years of hardship and suffering as a country, and through all of that the people have come out of it with so much resilience and strength, and I am proud and grateful to be a part of that legacy and strive to exemplify those characteristics in my own life.

Esther Cho is a photographer in Calgary. (CBC)

Though I love to create my own art through portraits, at the end of the day, I would describe myself more as a fan and appreciator of all the amazing art that comes out of our city. I am constantly learning and being inspired by all the artists around me, and I have so much respect for the work that artists put in to share their stories and make this city more beautiful and interesting. It can be really challenging to be an artist in Calgary, but there are so many people here who have been working relentlessly to change that, and it is really amazing and encouraging to see the fruits of their labour as the art scene has been growing so much here in the last several years.

It was not easy growing up as a minority in Calgary. I often felt out of place and struggled with my identity for most of my childhood because I was often the only Asian person in a room and never really saw people that looked like me on television or in magazines. I was frequently striving to be something that I really wasn't, because I just didn't know otherwise. This is why I believe so much in equal representation in media and why I am so passionate about showcasing diversity through my photos! I hope that the generations coming up now will feel more belonging. 

I definitely hope that the art and culture of Calgary continues to grow and diversify. Although I feel we need more things to do in the city that are beyond just the Calgary Stampede every summer, I do think Calgary already has been changing so much. There are so many new businesses and events popping up all over, so I hope the city will continue on this path. 

In terms of photography, there are so many great people that I have met in the last few years that have not only taught me different skills, but have also encouraged me and given me so many great opportunities that opened many other doors. Big shout out to Jeremy Fokkens, who is a fantastic photographer and lighting guru; he taught me so much not just technically but also how to conduct business as a freelance artist and to believe in my value as an artist. Another big shout out to Beni Johnson, an entrepreneur and advocate for building culture in Calgary who has put together countless events for the hip-hop scene in Calgary for many, many years. He hired me to take photos for so many different events and campaigns when I was just starting out, which helped me hone my craft, gave me a lot of exposure to the music scene and allowed me to make so many connections that I still have today!

There are some really massive problems in our world, and it can get really overwhelming and daunting to try to think of how to solve them or change things, but remember that even the smallest actions can have a profound and positive impact, even if you don't see the results right away. If you see an issue, ask yourself what small things you are able to do as an individual to help improve that issue, and then do them! As you make those changes in your own life, you will start to understand the issue more, which will show you even bigger ways to help. You'll be most effective as a "changemaker" if you are willing to put in that work in your own life. 

I feel very honoured to have been able to be a part of this campaign and really thankful to CBC for this opportunity. Not only was it a great time taking and working on these photos, but I also loved meeting every nominee and learning more about each of their stories and all the amazing work they are doing for this city. It can be really easy to get bogged down with all the sad and scary things happening around the world, so much so that we forget that there is also so much good happening, too. Stories like these are important to hear, and I hope every reader feels as inspired as I do! 

Zoe Harveen Kaur Sihota, Visual artist

My name is Zoe Harveen Kaur, and my pronouns are she/her. I come from a long line of Punjabi Sikhs. I was born and raised in Calgary and grew up learning to balance my Punjabi heritage with my Canadian descent. Through my bachelor of arts degree in political science and my passion for digital art, I have been able to harness my creativity to spread awareness and educate others on South Asian cultures and traditions. 

I identify as Punjabi Sikh, as both grandparents from my mum and dad were farmers in Punjab. 

I would say that my artwork uplifts the South Asian community and allows community members to feel supported, seen and recognized no matter their demographic or walk or life. 

I'm extremely proud of being Asian — it's a representation of who I am, my belief system and my values. Additionally, being Asian is a representation of family. My family grew up in India and immigrated to Canada; having experienced what it was like to live in India and immigrate to a completely new country is something I truly admire and respect. The experiences of my ancestors and family members makes me proud to be Asian and allows me to explore my cultural identity.

Being Asian in Canada, specifically in Calgary, is interesting as I can explore my identity while feeling a sense of belonging with fellow South Asian Canadians. The ability to connect with the diaspora is intriguing and allows me to learn more about where I come from and the different outlooks we all have on life. Additionally, I find it enriching to teach others about my culture whilst learning about other cultures Canadians identify with. It makes me happy to know that I can share my culture with others while learning as well. 

Zoe Harveen Kaur Sihota is a visual artist in Calgary. (CBC)

I would love to see more cross-cultural events in the city to educate and empower Calgarians, no matter their background. There is so much to experience and learn, and I think having more community events would allow Calgarians to feel more integrated in the city and represented. 

I have numerous mentors that helped me along this journey! I think the most prominent mentors are my family members — my mum, dad and sister have been extremely supportive of my creative endeavours. They continuously give me creative ideas for future projects, allow me to explore my artistic side and are the first people to support what I do. My extended family is truly important to me, and they have been my muses along the way. 

I say, speak up for yourself, be open to learning and educate others on the change you wish to make. There is always change to be made and always a way to create change. As long as you are doing your best to inform your community and you have heart, people will listen! 

I am absolutely thrilled and truly grateful to be one of the artists behind CBC Calgary's Asian Changemakers campaign! My artistic journey has been a crazy ride, and I feel so honoured to be able to showcase my talents through such an important time.

To have a platform and to have the ability to share my advocacy is a dream. It's surreal to be able to represent a group of people, while learning from all the other incredible artists. I feel elated and supported by the community to share my interpretation of Asian History Month.