UGA Animation Student Makes Personal Art That Speaks for Itself

Pham uses their artwork as a way to communicate themes and issues that affect and move them and they often bring their experiences into the fold to create bold and unapologetic art. 

Jenn Pham, a fourth-year interdisciplinary studies animation major, works on an art piece at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Pham creates art that deals with critical themes such as sexuality and gender identity exploration. (Photo/Jenn Pham)

By: Maddy Franklin

It’s a warm Wednesday afternoon and Jenn Pham is sweating. Memories from their first figure drawing course spill out of their mouth, which occasionally erupts into an infectious but nervous laugh — they cringe in the middle of their recollection. 

One day, Pham, a senior interdisciplinary studies animation major, felt pretty and drew themself naked for a project, but this moment of confidence produced unease when Pham saw their classmates’ portraits, some of which depicted friends or benign actions like playing basketball.

Though Pham said they felt like the “odd man out,” they continued to make the art they wanted, and when it was time to pitch their final project idea, they prefaced it with the phrase, “I just don’t make safe work.” 

Pham uses their artwork as a way to communicate themes and issues that affect and move them and they often bring their experiences into the fold to create bold and unapologetic art. 

Artistry Growth

Art has always been a part of Pham’s life but they didn’t take it seriously as a possible career until high school.

“There’s no thing that I’ve come across where it’s, like, matching what I feel and what I’m able to do when it comes to art,” said Pham. 

Why It’s Newsworthy: Jenn Pham is a local artist, business owner and aspiring storyboard artist attending the University of Georgia. They use their position as an artist to speak on issues that are close to their heart, such as social injustice, sexuality and gender identity exploration. 

Looking at Pham’s art from high school to now, there is a marked difference in the style and themes of their pieces.

What once was work that was inspired by things they’d read or seen online, transformed into gritty, intimate work that centered around concepts like sexuality and gender identity exploration. 

Pham chalks this change up to their growth as a person — things like going to therapy and feeling comfortable in their identity as a genderqueer person helped facilitate this tonal shift. 

Speaking Out

A screenshot of Jenn Pham’s Instagram post on March 10, 2021. This piece was posted days before the Atlanta spa shootings. (Photo/Maddy Franklin)

Days before the Atlanta spa shootings, Pham posted their most vulnerable artwork yet. It was a multimedia piece made with charcoal, gesso, receipt paper, rubber cement and birth control stickers that addressed the objectification of Asian women and how that’s impacted their self-image. 

On social media, Pham has spoken out against injustices numerous times as well as used their position as an artist to offer solidarity to sexual violence survivors and marginalized communities.

“I just think about all the things that have been done to me as a woman, as an Asian American, as a queer person, as a genderqueer person, like all these things that have just compounded,” said Pham. “I just can’t imagine not saying something.” 

Pham said they’ve always been known for being outspoken, which is something that UGA art professor Joseph Norman said made them stand out among other art students. 

Initially, Norman said he thought Pham was difficult because they were so opinionated, but it became something he admired about them, and they’ve since cultivated a strong mentor-mentee relationship. 

Up Next

Pham hopes to become a storyboard artist and work on material that will reach people who haven’t seen themselves represented on screen.

An untitled animation that Pham created as a Christmas gift for their partner. Pham is an aspirating storyboard artist and would like to create their own television show in the future. (Photo/Jenn Pham)

According to a 2019 USC Annenberg report, men occupy 89% of lead storyboard artist positions for animated television series, so in order to reflect a changing culture, Pham feels it’s necessary to employ artists who can offer new perspectives. 

Despite this drive to enact change, Pham is in no rush to jump-start their career in animation.

After they graduate next month, they’ll travel to Maine alongside three artists to conduct a residency they created called 4th&Main, which was awarded the Design Emporium WONDER Grant

In an Instagram post, Pham said they created the residency to take charge of their artistic career and provide other artists with an accessible means to do the same. 

With a lifelong dedication to art, Pham is determined to make it work, even if it means taking on a “side hustle” or two. 

“I will ride the starving artist thing until I die,” said Pham. 

How I Wrote the Story: I reported this story because I was impressed with Pham’s commitment to being a Dodd Ambassador and from there, I became interested in their process as an artist — including what inspires their pieces. By profiling Pham, I gained skills in interviewing and furthered my skills in extracting the most salient points from them.