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Life & Work with Kim Sandara

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kim Sandara.

Hi Kim, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I started at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD. After graduating there in 2016, more of my work was based in the DMV (DC/MD/VA) area. I had always been drawing and doing work in my childhood and adolescence, but Baltimore is where I learned to think more creatively. In DC, I worked museum jobs as my day job work and would be out a lot at gallery openings and art events. I hung out more in MD and DC for creative events, but eventually, I got my first artist residency in 2019 at the Torpedo Factory in VA. It was validating to have my work be seen and heard there. I was working on a graphic novel on my coming-out story, turning a part of the story into animation and orchestrating a queer zine made up of community stories.

I then got a Bresler residency at VisArts to explore more Lao identity work I was interested in. I am Lao and Vietnamese. My work began to gravitate towards learning more about the Secret War and Vietnam War as I was doing my queer identity work. The animation I made for the Torpedo Factory included my parent’s refugee story, where my interest began. I couldn’t get over Laos being the most bombed country per capita in human history. So I created the 270 Million Project, which donates to Legacy of Wars (a nonprofit in the DC area which focuses on advocating, educating, and raising funds to help remove the bombs in Laos—along with survivor assistance ) and COPE (a rehabilitation center in Vientiane, Laos). I wanted to do all I could to expose this hidden history that still hurts people in Laos today. There are still bombs there from a war they were technically neutral in.

During the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, which ran into my VisArts residency, I worked mostly on animating, painting, and illustrating work on being Lao and queer. That sounds like a lot, but I also spend more time than I ever have reading, reflecting, and taking walks in Woodbridge, VA. By September 2020, I decided to move to NYC since I was furloughed in the DMV and had no sense of when I would work the same jobs again. I started working in Chinatown in NYC because I felt a strong desire to help a larger Asian community struggling through the pandemic. I was a volunteer designer with Welcome to Chinatown, my first introduction to an NYC community. Otherwise, I spent my days in Sunset Park in Brooklyn—getting familiar and comfortable with my new community. I wanted to move to NYC to expand my communities and learn all I could think about the art world here and general NYC history. My take so far is that you can find the worst and best people in NYC. Regardless of the pandemic news on NYC never being able to recover, I think this city is still vibrant and filled with ambitious people. In terms of art shows— I’ve shown work at the Chelsea Market, Two Minds (a shop in Chelsea), Arts on the Ave (a group that shows work in empty retail spaces left during the pandemic), and the Tiny Art Gallery. It’s been 2 years, but I still feel like I’m at the beginning of getting to know NYC. It always keeps me excited and interested. I still do work for the DMV area when I can as well. I enjoy being connected to both communities.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a smooth road?
Moving to NYC and moving within NYC has been a struggle. There’s huge income discrimination here. Landlords and brokers are slimy and will do the most to give you the least. I had to put my art practice on pause when I moved here and within Brooklyn, but it has been worth getting through and resting afterward.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I create abstract paintings that translate sounds into visuals. I listen to music and create work in a stream-of-consciousness way. I’ve also been working on a graphic novel on my coming out a story called “Origins of Kin and Kang,”—which is based in Baltimore, DMV, and NYC. Some people know me now for the 270 Million Project—270 abstract ink paintings inspired by Lao music, representing 1 million bombs dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War era. The paintings are 9”x12” and installed in a grid formation. They engulf any space they’re given, and each piece that is bought puts a blackout square in the installation. It is an ode to all the women bomb workers in Laos trying to safely detonate these cluster bombs without maps or enough tools to facilitate the process. I am proud of this Project and hope to exhibit it until it is 270 black squares and a story.

Do you have any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
When I was like 5, I went to my Lao neighbor’s place (my mom babysat her and her brother and always brought my brother and me)—and one day, she put me in a pink Jeep (the kind that fits kids) in the backyard. My neighbor and I rode around, which is so cute to see in photos. When I was a little older, like 4th or 5th grade, —I also found a toy Jeep in our community playroom. I took a joy ride around our apartment building with my baby brother and middle brother.


  • 270 Million Project painting $300
  • Online shop $3 Postcards/Stickers
  • Online shop $20-40 prints and cards
  • Online shop $75 18”x24” Posters

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