Marilyn “Tiya DK” Kirby’s art journey of becoming an artist is an unfamiliar one. Tiya started experimenting with creativity at the age of twelve as a hidden hobby until her father encouraged her to see her talent as more than just a past-time.
Her painting became a therapy which helped her blossom to one promising artist. Her bright and bold colors, shapes, and curves have caught people’s attention in the Washington D.C. area. This gave her the opportunity to showcase her talent in venues such as The Library of Congress (LOC) and The Wing Luke Museum. Her medium of choice is mostly acrylic paint on large canvasses using brushes, fingers, and different tools to give that 3D dimensional effect in all her art works.
As she was thriving as an upcoming Filipino-American artist, an unspeakable tragedy happened to her father–a senseless act of violence. Her colorful world became dark as she suffered insurmountable grief for a long period of time. Her work as an artist and painter froze.
And only now, is she beginning her journey to a new stage of her life. She plans for a comeback as an artist to paint more, have more shows, and share her stories through her art and writing. Her ultimate goal is to have her manuscript turned into a film so she can share her experiences and make others be more aware of these issues.
This Q&A shows how Tiya’s challenges of her art journey and comeback helped her become a better artist. Enjoy!
We will start the interview with who are you and what do you do as an artist?
I am……a young, free-spirited artist with hopes, dreams and ambition. When it comes to art I have no limitations and boundaries. I express my emotions and feelings through creative expressions, typically on canvas and on paper.
Marilyn “Tiya DK” Kirby, is Tiya DK your nickname?
“Marilyn” is my government name (lol) and “Tiya” is the nickname I got in middle school. “DK” stands for my middle and last names. It made sense to me to keep both and have a separate name for my art.
What is your art style?
My art style is mostly abstract and it’s free flowing. I do as I feel and once I get into my zone that’s when I feel most free and untouchable. Most of my work is abstract and on large canvases with mostly acrylic paint. Some of the other media I use to give different textures are fabric paint, markers, glitter. I texturize with various paint brushes, finger tips and other tools to create 3-D effects. All art pieces have a story/theme behind the work or a symbolic meaning which makes it more real and fun to discuss.
Tell me about your most significant art exhibit at the LOC (Library of Congress)
In May of 2013, I was asked to display artwork for The Library of Congress, Washington, DC for the Asian Pacific Islander Art Exhibit Archive. The theme was adoption. I had the opportunity to showcase new artwork and I decided to paint a gay couple with an adopted child. Washington, D.C., had recently passed the law for same sex marriage, so I thought it would be a great idea to creatively express that gay couples should have the same equal rights as heterosexual’s to adopt children. It was a good conversation piece.
Earlier, in 2011, The Library of Congress asked me to be a featured guest to speak on a panel and display artwork in their showcase. The panel discussion included other adult adoptees and we discussed the different struggles of being adopted and what challenges we faced growing up. It was an honor to be a guest and it was an incredible and humbling experience to be part of the panel discussion.
You mentioned your art works were also showcased at the Wing Luke Museum, tell me about this experience?
Yes. Lorial Crowder, who started the Filipino Adoptee Networks (FAN), advised that I try submitting my work for the exhibit and I was excited it was chosen. The Wing Luke Museum is located on the west coast in Seattle, WA. Staff was looking for various adoptees who are artists to showcase their artwork for their exhibit opening. The work had to be judged to be approved for the showcase. I was selected and had my artwork hang for a few months. This opportunity gave me good exposure and an opportunity to share artworks with other adoptees.
Looking at your previous works, I see a stage play, “Conversations About HER” – Is this based on a screenplay?
Tim Odom is an amazing writer (and entrepreneur) who wrote the book, “Conversations About HER” and then turned the book into a stage play. It was set in an art gallery and it had a very artistic approach with a musical flare. His production staff researched different artists and asked if I would be willing to hang some of my work on their set. The play took place at the George Washington University Theater in Washington, D.C.
You say a percentage of proceeds of art sales and art works are donated to various charities and venues. 1st, how much percentage do you give?
It varies depending on the Venue.
2nd, name a few artworks you have donated?
I have donated artworks to several entities over the years. A lot of my original sketch books have been donated to the Library of Congress for their research and studies (Archive Department) and they also have several original paintings.
I’ve also donated artwork to the Prince Georges County Department for Child Welfare in MD; their fund-raiser was a great opportunity to meet foster-care children and adopted children with their new families. It was an honor to do an art piece that displayed a theme about adoption because I am also a product of that.
In addition, I’ve donated artwork to the Komen Breast Cancer fund-raising event, Dress For Success, The Sasha Bruce Foundation, and more.
Last, what are the charities you donated to and why did you choose them?
All the charities I have donated art proceeds to are organizations that help people get back on their feet: Children in foster-care & adoption, Cancer Fund Raising Events (attached below), HIV/AIDS, and other humanitarian organizations.
You have some of your artworks displayed in an independent film. Wow! Which are they and what film is this?
A friend of mine who is a screenwriter and an independent film producer, Angel Sepulveda (Sepulveda Films), wrote a manuscript and shot the movie. He needed artwork for the set and reached out to me. I was honored to have some of my work hang in his production. I had three of my large paintings hanging on his walls (Artwork Used: Intertwined Lovers, Writer’s Block, and Rainy Miami). The film has not been released yet.
Looking at your Facebook page, art resume, and website, I noticed they were not updated for quite some time. Is this related to the tragedy of your father? (So sorry for your loss.)
Thank you. Yes, it’s been a very difficult struggle to accept the unexpected loss of my father. You never get over it, you slowly just learn to get used to it, which is an excruciating pain I live with every day. My life has changed dramatically…it will never be the same…so it has definitely set me back; however, I’m slowly bouncing back, and when I do, I’m going to come back even harder! The depth of this tragic experience will definitely affect my work.
Despite your loss, it must be hard for you to create again. How did you pull through? Did you paint during this period or was your painting much darker than you’re colorful bright art pieces?
I thought that was it! I was done because I really thought I had literally lost my mind!!! I was extremely close to my father (I was daddy’s little girl and we also had a common interest through our work in transportation and construction, which made our relationship even richer), so losing him so tragically and unexpectedly tore my world apart and I became depressed. I had no motivation to paint or do anything for a while.
However, with time and also having such a great support team with my friends, family and even my job, I was able to slowly pull myself back together. I found myself getting back into doing some art pieces and actually shocked myself. I think my art now is deeper, more mature, more emotional, and richer. Attached is one of the new pieces I did for the one-year anniversary of his death.
Getting back to doing some art has been very therapeutic for me and it has helped me express my loss. I don’t think my work is as colorful (vibrant) and happy, but I still use bright colors…just in a different manner. Is it darker? Mmmmm…Yes, I would say so. I guess you could call it the “Dark Period”.
Reading the article, it was stated your parents adopted you and your brother in the Philippines. Has this influenced your creative style? At what age did you discover and started exploring your creativity?
Yes. My brother and I were and still are very blessed we were chosen. I think being chosen aka “adopted” has influenced me to be expressive and feel super fortunate, which gives me the motivation to express my gratitude, experiences, emotions, and who I am creatively on canvas.
Some of my pieces illustrate a lot of where I come from and who I am. I discovered art at a fairly young age and started pursuing it as a hidden hobby at 12 years old. I was shy and didn’t want anyone to know I enjoyed painting. Being an artist and painting was considered lame and not cool (lol), I also really didn’t think I was that good. It was just a hobby and also a way to avoid getting in trouble. I would paint for hours and lock myself up in my room, but I never saw it being worth showing or talking about until my father found a painting behind my dresser ready to go to the trash. He absolutely refused to throw it away. Instead, he framed my artwork and after that…well, art became more than just a hobby. It was a talent (that my dad helped me feel worthy of my niche, as he would call it). Eventually it became a passion that I cannot live without!
I see that you are a member at Filipino Adoptee Networks
Yes. As I mentioned earlier, Lorial is a phenomenal Filipina who created FAN and has helped me and many other Filipinos network with appropriate people. She has a great vision to bring people together and help connect you with others.
FAN had a panel discussion on this topic. (http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2011/11-192.html) In this panel, Psychologist Amanda Baden discussed identity crisis in teen years among the adoptees.
Yes, Amanda Baden is a great psychologist and I had the opportunity to listen to her discuss identity crises that typically start at a very young age and eventually can manifest to depression and other issues. We talked about our own struggles and discussed different scenarios, situations, how to possibly recognize children and youth who struggle with identity issues and to suggest tips to help minimize and possibly prevent them. It was a very interesting group and I felt extremely honored to be part of the panel.
Tell me about your identity crisis as an adoptee and mixing it with your creativity. Did you ever connect with your biological parents as I can see longing in some of your paintings?
Growing up was a challenge because I faced racial discrimination, abandonment issues, and not feeling wanted or accepted. As a child, it was very hard to understand why you were given up, why your adopted parents don’t look like you, and also to deal with a lot of negativity as an orphan, etc. I definitely struggled with identity at a young age…I think we all do at one point or another, so being adopted (in my opinion) just makes it even more intense, strange and complicated, especially as a child.
It was my art that helped me evolve, gain confidence and see my self-worth. Art helped me forget my worries because I stopped sweating the small stuff that I couldn’t control and I started utilizing the things I could appreciate, value and control: my creativity. Art was the one thing I didn’t fear. I realized no one can take it from me and that’s what helped me gain confidence.
Some of my artwork definitely reflects my inner emotions and feelings of being given up as well as longing to meet my biological family, which I did. I did some of my artwork before I met my family (in the summer of 2005) and I have other artwork illustrating my experiences after I met them. Meeting my biological family was the most exhilarating, thrilling and amazing journey I’ve ever experienced.
In your BIO, you mentioned you are working on a book and a screenplay based on a true story—is this your story? Is this about your adoption and breaking stereotypes?
THE WORK IS ACTUALLY A SCREENPLAY BASED ON A TRUE STORY. So, yes, the story definitely has to do with adoption, breaking stereotypes, and most of all, educating those who lack understanding of adoption and foster-care. It also focuses on educating those who are planning or seriously considering adopting. I incorporated my amazing journey/experiences in the book to give the audience some of the things I’ve experienced and to help others be more aware of what it’s like when adopting as well as fostering children.
What is your plan for a comeback?
My plan is to paint more, have more shows and share my stories through my creative expression (art and writing). My ultimate goal is to have my story turned into a film. Being able to share my story and make others more aware of these issues, plus entertain people would be my ultimate come back!
A significant amount of any proceeds will go to adoption and foster-care agencies as well as efforts to stop domestic violence and gun violence (in honor of my dad who was gunned down in such a senseless manner). Long term, I would like to be a philanthropist and be able to help numerous organizations as my way of giving back.
I am very passionate about my gift, my art, and would like to share it with everyone I meet…share a piece of who I am with others and hopefully make a difference. I am seeking legal representation (agent) to help me produce the story as a film and play. If you know anyone who wants a unique story and will believe in my vision and project, please send them my way! I’m also open to an art agent who can possibly book me for other art exhibits locally and internationally.
My website is www.tiyadk.com. My facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tiya-DK/190371861040167) and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
All images are provided by Marilyn “Tiya DK” Kirby.
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