L ike many Asian-American children, Antonius-Tin Bui felt pressured to become a doctor or engineer.
Bui, a genderqueer, non-binary Vietnamese-American who goes by the pronouns they/them/their, even studied chemistry and medicine as an undergraduate for two years at the University of Houston.
“I just never felt fully satisfied,” Bui says. “But I was always creative, and decided to transfer to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MIC/A). I decided I could help the Asian/queer community better through my art.”
The child of refugees Paul and Van Bui, Bui was born into a very Catholic household in the Bronx. The family moved to the Fort Bend County area when Bui was in high school. After earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at MIC/A, Bui spent seven years traveling and creating art that explored Vietnamese and queer history through performance, textiles, and photography.
Now, Bui is back home living with family during a six-month residency at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC).
“I applied twice before I was accepted,” Bui says. “I’m mostly working with hand-cut paper at the studio and teaching the public how to draw non-binary bodies. I am also working to produce a Queer Lunar New Year in February to honor Asian/queer ancestors.”
The artist-in-residency program at HCCC is unique in that the artists are required to work at least two days a week in designated studios that are open to visitors. Bui’s studio days are Saturday and Sunday.
“I like the open-door policy,” Bui says. “It’s different than any other residency I’ve had. I especially love the kids that come by; they ask great questions while I am working. It really teaches me about my own art [as I find] ways to explain it to others.
“Also, you never know who will stop by. Because of the nearby Texas Medical Center, we get a lot of cancer patients coming in to look at art, and they share their stories and their love of art. It reminds me how important art is.
“And then one day Autumn Knight came by and we started talking,” Bui says, referring to the acclaimed queer African-American artist. “I couldn’t believe it was her. I was so excited to meet her.”
Bui is also excited about an upcoming solo show at Lawndale Art Center, and the opportunity to reconnect with family as an adult. Three of Bui’s four siblings are artists, which Bui says makes for a beautiful and creative relationship.
“And my mom is the best cook,” Bui says. “She spends hours in the kitchen, and of course I love her Vietnamese cooking.”
Having studied in India for three months, Bui also enjoys Indian cuisine as well as the Japanese fare at Sushi Myagi in Bellaire, which is run by two grandparents. “I really hope they are in good health, because I love that restaurant,” Bui says.
Bui also enjoys reading, warming up in the studio by dancing, and listening to the music of Rina Sawyama and Blood Orange.
Bui’s partner of three-and-a-half years is Brandon Brooks, an architectural fellow living in Copenhagen. The couple has a rescue dog named Dada that is equal parts anxiety and love—“just like most rescues.”
Brooks and Bui, being self-described “art geeks,” have both applied to master’s-degree programs at Yale University and plan to become architecture and art professors, respectively. Bui doesn’t know where they will eventually settle down, although both love Houston. Brooks has also applied to the master’s program at Rice University.
Bui—whose self-given first name, Antonius, is that of the Roman emperor Hadrian’s gay lover—has exhibited at many institutional, private, public, and underground venues, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Hillyer Art Space, Lawndale Art Center, Living Arts, 108 Contemporary, Artscape, and the Philbrook Museum. Bui’s work as an HCCC resident artist will be part of an upcoming group showing at the center. The solo exhibit at Lawndale Art Center begins December 7 and will stay up until March 3.
Or you could drop in at the Houston Contemporary Craft Center on the weekends this month and watch the artist at work.
This article appears in the December 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.