by Amanda Ong
At just 22 years old, Tamar Sunnam Manuel says someone could know him for decades and still have very few of his stories. Manuel is a fine art and gallery artist who spent his formative years at CID. While he started out in photography, he eventually found his way into multimedia arts, which means he does “a bit of everything”. But in his more than two decades of life, Manuel has also been an amateur competitive tennis player, clothing designer, boxer, bowling champion and dancer.
“Originally, I was a business student when I got accepted to [college]”, said Manuel in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. He and his mother had gone to visit his friend, who was a professor in the arts department of one of the universities where he had been accepted. “I realized [art] was actually an option. I just don’t think I grew up seeing someone who made art in a way that suited me, because at the time I still saw the need for monetary structure and rigor and academics.
While Manuel eventually quit pursuing his undergraduate studies, he gained ground as a photographer and exhibiting gallery artist while working for a time as a car salesman. In addition to pieces hung in residential buildings and galleries, Manuel was a finalist in the “Seattle Restored” grant program and was able to exhibit a self-portrait reflecting mental illness at the Wing Luke Museum, where he has a long-standing relationship. .
“I am a Chinatown kid through and through. I spent my first 100 day anniversary at Wing Luke,” Manuel said. “My mother worked at the Wing when she was pregnant with me. … So I grew up around the Wing as a baby.
Last year, Manuel was the teaching artist for the Wing Luke Museum’s YouthCAN program, a program he attended as a high school student. As a teaching artist, Manuel was able to teach students studio photography for a fashion curriculum theme. He remembers his own time at YouthCAN as one of his first experiences realizing that his work could resonate with people. As a student of the program, Manuel had exhibited a large canvas of calligraphy with a poem running across it. As it progressed, the calligraphy changed from clear, crisp writing to streaks of paint, expressing frustration. A few visitors had stopped to look at him carefully and took pictures with his piece.
“To have someone visit the museum, as a regular tourist with no connection to me, and like this job, it was the most amazing and amazing feeling,” Manuel said. “It meant something to them, even not knowing who I was and being completely alienated from me, they loved what I was doing.”
Manuel says the Wing Luke Museum was the first place he could hang something on a wall other than his own. It was his first home for his art, especially important given his roots in the CID. Manuel was born and raised in South Seattle to a Filipino American father and a Korean American mother, and he still works out of a studio in SoDo.
This fall, Manuel will return to his first-year undergraduate studies at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I still call myself an art student, because even though you’re recognized for your work, I don’t think I’ve ever thought, ‘I’m done,'” Manuel said. As a multimedia artist, he is eager to experiment with a variety of media.
For Manuel, entering art school is a major step in his professional career. Growing up, he didn’t realize that art was a viable career path, or even an extracurricular one. Instead, he pursued more athletic pursuits and participated in amateur competitive sports. Although it took him some time to find art in a serious way, it turned out to be his true passion. “I didn’t know we had clubs, I didn’t know there were art schools,” Manuel said. “I didn’t understand the concepts, those basic fundamental things that a lot of other students know right off the bat. I invented it as I went along.
More than that, Manuel struggled with serious mental health issues. For a long time he said he didn’t have any kind of career in mind, he was just trying to survive. He was in and out of school and missed many opportunities. Art was never a career path he envisioned, but by the sheer definition of his work, as he began to create he became an artist.
“I have to do it, because it’s one of the few things that excites me so much,” Manuel said. “I pay homage to the kid who missed his whole life. I just want to be someone who can do the things he loves in life.
Manuel recalls that after being hospitalized once at 18, he realized that if he continued to go untreated for his mental illnesses, he could die. With this sobering realization came a greater perspective and recommitment to his larger dreams and motivations, especially in his art.
The art world brings its own challenges, and Manuel says he’s had to face a long internal journey to determine whether he should make the art he wants or the art people expect of him. . He often feels like artists are meant to create deep and meaningful pieces. At this point in his life, he’s just trying to be happy.
“My dream is to do something and be so proud of it that when I present it to the public, even though it’s hated by everyone, I sit still and I’m glad I did it,” said Manual. “That it came from my head to my materials. It’s something I want. … My art is that I learn what it means to be myself.
Amanda Ong (she) is a Chinese-American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate in the University of Washington’s Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in Creative Writing and Ethnic and Racial Studies.
📸 Featured Image: Tamar Sunnam Manuel is a fine art and gallery artist who spent her formative years at CID. Photo taken from “Reflections in Movement” by Tamar S. Manuel.
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