Irise Art for Action: Tiff Chan and Shawn P. Griffin – Art for Social Change and Self-development.
Tiff Chan and Shawn P. Griffin(@shawnpgriffin) – “Bless the Souls who Made our Clothes”
Tiff Chan (Kyokaruna, Arty Catalyste) and Shawn P. Griffin collaborated to produce the piece
above, generously donated to Irise Art for Action, which won 2nd runner up for the 2014 Hong
Kong Human Rights Art Prize, raising HK$10,500 for charity. Tiff seeks to use art to help
communities, creating social change in her artwork through applied expressive arts therapy and
pointing out where empathy is due. Shawn is an award-winning photographer whose work has
been featured in exhibitions and publications across 4 continents, also working in writing and
performance, balancing work as an art journalist by day and a drag queen by night.
1. What unique role can art play in creating social change?
T: Some things can be discussed with no impact on our actions, while art can make people
think every time it’s seen. The repetition of seeing something can affect our subconscious,
which has the power to change behaviour over time. Using artwork to support a cause feels like
a symbolic gesture that is more significant than just giving money. We can create waves of
impact when our work catches someone’s eye and resonates with them, and they choose to
acquire it, transferring meaning in a physical, tangible way. It also promotes the purpose and
power of art in our lives.
S: Art can impact an audience in ways that other forms of social commentary cannot as it is
purely visual. While it is easy for some audiences to get lost in words and explanations, or to not
understand due to language barriers, art presents social issues in a universal language that can
create an impactful message, which stirs interest and can’t easily be avoided.
2. “Bless the souls who made our clothes” received 2nd runner up in the 2014 Hong Kong
Human Rights Art Prize, with the theme of the year being modern slavery and human trafficking.
Tell us about the significance of “Bless the souls who made our clothes” – why did you choose
this particular topic to highlight? What was your creative process for this piece and how did that
T: It really bothers me how major brands have such a level of irresponsibility. How they can
operate with such large amounts of profit and extent of injustice for personal gain, taking
advantage of entire communities and nations – the workers’ time, energy and dignity – yet STILL
be able to operate on the market. Just because the country’s economy is designed that way,
doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t question their part in perpetuating the injustice.
I feel powerless in acting directly, so if my space and voice is through art, that’s where I need to
speak. The repercussions of relationships between fashion brands, workers, and economies are
PERPETUATING POVERTY and inequality in the world on a daily basis. Yet by human nature,
what is out of sight is out of mind. It’s overwhelming thinking about the amount of injustice in the
world that affects what we’re using daily. Fast fashion is something that millions of people
participate in without this awareness.
S: I personally felt connected to the topic as fashion photography is my primary day-job. Many
consumers and, admittedly, many people who are a part of the marketing chain of fashion and
clothing brands don’t take into consideration the actual production of the garment and the
societal impact that clothing has had before it reaches a magazine editor’s desk.
In terms of our creative process. The idea and initiation was entirely Tiff. She has a strong
background in community issues and felt very strongly about contributing the pieces to the Hong
Kong Human Rights Art Prize. My focus was on the technical and compositional aspects of
assembling the visual pieces together in a collage.
3. What have the arts illuminated to you about social and cultural concepts around masculinity,
femininity and sexual identity? How is this reflected in your personal work?
T: The arts have given me the space and freedom to experiment with my curiosity around
gender and sexuality. So often, there is an extent to which you can talk to people about gender
and identity. The arts are a reliable space to process all thoughts and encounters, socially and
culturally. It’s extremely important that people can feel that they can do this exploration
individually and deeply through the arts, and not just settle for what is accepted in their family or
S: My recent art focuses much more on sexuality and the various personal journeys I’ve
encountered as a gay man coming from a small midwestern town and ending up in Hong Kong.
Whether about myself or reflecting on society, sexuality and how we present ourselves has
always been a major point of my artistic expression that began to stem from me leaving ‘The
Bible Belt’ to a place where I could be more expressive with myself. While the bulk of my day
job work is fashion, I also moonlight as a drag performer, where I am able to experiment more
with my expressions of my internal relationship with masculinity and femininity.
4. How has being creative impacted your self-development? What tips would you give to anyone
interested in figuring out their unique artistic style, but are unsure of where to begin?
T: None of my self-development would’ve happened without one form of creativity or another.
Art can sometimes uplift and empower oneself more than anyone else’s words can, because
you can embody and engage in the learning with your entire being. Creativity is a chance to
have ALL and any conversations you want to have, but can’t. The arts can restore every part of
you that your environment may have tried to take away – your body, your voice, your feelings,
your expressivity, your curiosity, your dignity as a unique individual.
Be ruthless in identifying what you like or want and what kind of materials, aesthetics help you
say exactly what you want to. TAKE TIME to discover those things without feeling like you need
immediate answers. Staying in and shaping the unknown, while being completely honest with
your feelings, is the most fertile space to be in, because you get to explore the real you and not
a version that seeks to please others or meet ideas of social status. Give yourself permission to
drown out all thoughts that impede this process, including any voices that criticise you.
Surrender to the process as a form of self care, with the intention of making work that serves
your soul, above all else.
S: I pretty much owe the entirety of my self-development to being creative. Art and utilizing it to
explore new conversations on often difficult topics has been a driving factor in discovering who I
am, both as an image-maker as well as in my personal life.
For tips, I would say to start with your most extreme. Get uncomfortable and make that initial
visual conversation with yourself. Even if it is something you’ll never share with anyone else,
being open with yourself and anticipating challenges and directions to your vision is a necessary
step in creating work that is meant to spark emotion with other viewers.
For a chance of winning their work and similarly inspirational pieces from other artists at just £3,
head to irise.org.uk/art-for-action – opportunity ends MIDNIGHT Monday 15th of June.