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Contrast Magazine
Ara Feducia

Interview / Cassy Song
Photography / AJ Feducia

A conversation with graphic designer / University of Hawai‘i lecturer Ara Feducia.

Cassy: Could you tell me about growing up in the Philippines?
Ara Feducia: I remember pumping water from a well, squatters of houses, the process of killing pig and goat and fish shaped ube desserts during fiestas. I come from a terribly poor family on my mother’s side and my father came from plantation farmers in the Quezon province. My father was a narcotics officer in the Philippine Army and later joined the U.S. Army; which eventually became our ticket out of poverty. At the age of seven, when my brother was only a year old, my father got stationed to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany. He was currently stationed in Hawai‘i, but before relocating to Germany, he came back to the Philippines and spent his savings buying my mom, my brother and I a one-way ticket to Germany. The first of many culture shocks I’ve experience in my childhood. Out of the kindness of a superior officer named Dr. Johan, who my brother is named after, my family was allowed to stay in Germany with my dad. I went to a DOD school and learned English as a second language. It was a tumultuous childhood of strict upbringings.

How did you like Germany?
Germany to me is how I would imagine a child would feel when they saw Hogwarts School for the first time; still feels like a fairy tale. I remember empty cobblestone streets on cold Sundays, spectacular lights and the smell of spices during Christmas, hearty foods of bread, goulash and sausages, and a culture obsessed with educating and rewarding their children whenever they got the chance! It was the first time I was separated from cousins and aunts and I can’t tell you how lonely and disconnected my whole family felt. All I remember was the scare of neo-nazis in our small town and a new job opportunity in Maryland and the next minute I was about to face my next culture shock.

It was the place where I received citizenship, the place where I learned about how to be American. I was obsessed with black culture and hip-hop; in fact I wished I was black. Apparently that wish didn’t bode well with my conservative Filipino parents and after six years in Maryland we all moved back to the Philippines for nine months where I finished my senior year of high school. Culture shock again. Imagine a teenager with baggy pants and Timberland shoes entering a Christian high school for the first time. That lasted less than a year. My parental figures decided it would be best for me to go to an American college and at age 17 we landed in Honolulu with nothing but eight pieces of luggage. This is where my life began.

You’re a Creative Director and a Design and Typography Lecturer at The University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. How did you end up doing all of those things and do you enjoy wearing one hat over the other?
Let’s just say I made the right amount of mistakes and connected with exceptionally hard working people to get to where I am now. In 2009, Lisa Yamada was looking for a graphic designer for a magazine concept. We met through a recommendation by Clifford Cheng [Hawai‘i Skin Diver Magazine]. I was her second choice but I’m glad it worked out. I knew Jason Cutinella from Heavy Water and SMART Magazine days and good business figured everything out after that. During the upcoming Fall and Spring semesters, I’ll be juggling my time at UH Manoa and the NMG office. Can’t say I like one over the other but both occupations allow me to connect and reach out to people.

What advice can you give to young emerging artists and designers?
Question everything. Be passionate about something. Take risks. Stop whining and do something about it. Love science. Love the simplicity of an object’s function. Every day, tell yourself to try and not be such a solipsistic narcissist. Most importantly, seek a mentor. One of the most important people I was introduced to is Mari Matsuda in 2010. I was still working in the club scene, managing events, when she empowered me to take my knowledge of bringing people together for a cause greater than myself. I can still remember my pupils dilating at that very moment. That same year= I volunteered my time for “Still Present Pasts,” an art and juried exhibition curated by Trisha Goldberg about the devastating effect of the Korean War and war in general on people.

How would you describe the differences and/or similarities between art and design?
Graphic design and semiotics all revolve around our relationship with the audience. How does the viewer react on an emotional level with color or a typeface? How does a photograph work on a connotative level to a female audience or a male audience? Designers anticipate what the reader sees and often use rhetoric to get our meaning across. Our process and critique compared to the rest of the art mediums are similar in approach but our sign making and message depends on the perception of the audience. Designers and artists, I imagine are both cultural anthropologists; always observing, taking critique, giving critique and making assessments about all aspects of the humanities. Design will continue to be in-flux perhaps to a point where art and design will merge into a similar process. In an internet world evolved through algorithms and template design, I do believe the future of creative directors will be harnessed through our ability to problem solve and be sought after as cultural engineers in different fields.

You’ve been active in the art scene for a long time. What are some of your goals and what do you hope to see emerge within the community?
We are all a reflection of each other. My goal for our community is to help build and create creative environments for all age groups. What do I want to see in our community? Less appropriation of culture to fulfill financial gains, less rapid marginalization by the cultural hegemony and patriarch. More funding on a state and federal level for the arts in the public school systems; art and music class every day. More funding for the UH Manoa Art Department. More venues / galleries catering to younger crowds. More creative spaces for young people to make prints, develop film, paint, write, learn music, etc. Pardoning college loans. UH Manoa tuition caps – All paid for through an increase in taxation for the wealthy.

As a Design Lecturer at UH, what do you tell your students? What is the importance of design in the World?
The UH design program does not equate to a paying job at the end. We are not a vocational school. The design process to me is like breathing; it’s a way of decoding the way human beings communicate to each other. During the first month of Art 265 – Intro to Design we teach students that all signs can be broken down to icons, indexes and symbols. It’s so important to learn the basic foundations of semiotics, how meaning is formed, so that we can better decode art, music, film, fashion, people… Everything is designed! The bigger picture is that human history has given us an encyclopedia of symbols…signs agreed upon by a group of people. Through design and semiotics we can better understand ourselves and each other.

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This feature can be found printed in Contrast 12