MCHS student wins congressional art competition

Emma Chen’s painting, “Hotpot.” (Photo: Emma Chen)

By Samuel Leitch, editor

A family gathers united, seated around their hot pot feast. The meat and vegetables simmering in their broths pop out in vibrant acrylic color, all of these and more resting against a golden yellow backdrop.

Painted by Maria Carrillo High School junior Emma Chen, “Hotpot” is a recreation of a photo taken by her mom two summers ago, when her family and some friends went out for hot pot, a Chinese cooking method where eaters dip raw ingredients into the soup stock at center until cooked, adding flavor with each addition and removal. Next year, it will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol building.

“I wanted to capture the unity felt when enjoying a meal with family and friends, especially hot pot, which has a lot of significance to my family and Chinese culture as a whole.”

The CA-05 District Congressional Art Competition is an annual contest open to constituents of Congressman Mike Thompson’s district, which includes Sonoma County and a population of around 726,000 individuals, and Chen has been selected as the 2021 Grand Prize Winner. Consequently, her piece will hang in the Capitol for all of next year, and provided the pandemic restrictions subside soon, Chen will receive free airfare to Washington D.C.

“I wanted to capture the unity felt when enjoying a meal with family and friends, especially hot pot, which has a lot of significance to my family and Chinese culture as a whole,” said Chen. “With everything political and COVID-related being so crazy recently, I wanted to focus on painting simple, everyday experiences that had to do with community.”

Although Chen has participated in the contest previously, this year marks her first time winning the final round. Chen considers the Congressional Art Competition to be one of the most prestigious out of the contests she has won. 

“Judges were impressed by the detail and use of color in her acrylic on canvas,” Thompson said in a press release. “I look forward to seeing her piece in the Capitol where it will represent our district for the next year.”

Having drawn for around nine years, Chen expressed she has trained under her “fantastic instructor” Yang Chen at her local studio, Bay Art Academy, for the duration of that time. At Bay Art Academy, she has also worked with other students on a mural depicting firefighters defending Sonoma County as part of a fundraiser following the Kincade Fire. In total, they raised $8,000. A canvas print was sent to all 506 fire stations that put out the wildfire, and the original can be seen on display in Windsor’s town hall.

Chen has also dual-enrolled in drawing and painting courses at the Santa Rosa Junior College, which she says have improved her understanding of color theory.

As of now, Chen’s other projects include a piece for the Sonoma County Central Library in 2019 and, spanning the past few months, a mural with senior Teresa Liang that Chen says will recognize “many of the women and women of color in STEM that have not been adequately celebrated for their breakthroughs in STEM subjects.” 

The pair hopes to install their piece on the Petaluma Regional Library’s outer wall. For those interested, more information can be found at their website, www.togetheraboveall.com. 

For the future, Chen does not plan to pursue art as a career, but she will always draw as a hobby. “I just hope to continue using art as a method of advocating for causes that are important to me!” Chen said. 

And considering “Hotpot” will hang in the Capitol amidst political division, injustice against the AAPI community and an ever-present public health crisis, a piece that will not only proclaim unity to all who will see it, but embody a spirit of community that many Sonoma County residents know well, Chen is already well on her way to fulfilling that goal.

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