A Taiwanese American artist commissioned to design a mural in Beijing finally received his overdue payment after taking the matter to social media last week.
David Huang (@omguac), an illustrator based in New York City, says he was commissioned by Elaine Ng, editor-in-chief of ArtAsiaPacific (AAP), to work on the project in April 2019.
Established in 1993, AAP is an English-language magazine covering “contemporary art and culture from Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.” It is published six times a year and includes “features, profiles, essays and reviews by experts from all over the world.”
“I was elated since I have never worked on anything of that scale and visibility,” Huang wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post. “We [Huang and Ng] talked through the project over Skype and everything sounded fine. She was very upfront about the budget, so I agreed to start working on the project.”
The mural, installed on a building in Beijing’s 798 Art District, turned out to be for Hyundai Motorstudio. But Huang never received any contact information for Hyundai, making it harder for him to request payment when the time came.
“I was never given any contact information directly to Hyundai (even though I had asked) since AAP sort of acted as a mediator. I have no way of reaching them, and I feel really helpless in this,” Huang noted. “It was a mistake on my part that I put so much trust into my clients. I thought that Hyundai was such a big company and that AAP is an established art magazine that they would certainly pay artists fairly and on time. But that was certainly not the case.”
Huang told NextShark that Ng first reached out to him via email on April 25, 2019. He said AAP did not immediately inform him that the mural would be for Hyundai, though some of the documents he received had mentioned the company. He had to do “some online research” himself to “puzzle it together.”
“I sent in my first round of sketches on May 21, 2019. There was a lot of back and forth, waiting, and revisions in between,” Huang recalls. “The piece had to go through censorship too in order to be there, so there were many changes in the process. I sent in my final on August 16, 2019.”
The mural went up in November 2019. In January 2020, Huang sent Ng an invoice with a grand total of $6,000. The editor-in-chief reportedly responded that the payment would probably be sent the following month.
Unfortunately, Huang did not receive a single cent until last week, hours after he had posted about the issue on Instagram. He says the last time he had heard from Ng was on May 4, 2020 — but her email only contained COVID-related excuses.
“When I followed up initially, AAP told me they are trying to chase them [Hyundai] down too with no avail. They included lots of COVID-related excuses, saying that businesses around the world are suffering, which no doubt is true — but sort of a gaslight move on their part,” Huang recalls. “What is truly maddening is that after my follow-up on May 4th, all my efforts to try to contact AAP have been ignored. They would not reply to my email, and I even WhatsApp-ed the editor, in which the message was also ignored by her.”
Huang says AAP asked him to work on a mural that depicted “social intelligence.” The illustrator harnessed his flair for cityscapes and compact scenes.
“In the end, the piece had turned into something that was more along the lines of a Beijing cityscape with futuristic and contemporary elements co-existing,” Huang tells NextShark. “I included lots of famous buildings from Beijing, and also the building where the mural is located (798 district in Beijing).”
The fact that 2021 was approaching and he still had not received his payment forced Huang to take the matter to social media.
“Funnily, after just one day of nudging on social media — with everyone’s help — they replied immediately.”
Huang took down his post after receiving his long-sought $6,000. But he released a statement shortly after, warning companies that take advantage of artists.
“I’m trying not to think about this overwhelming experience for a few days, but I’ll say one last thing: DO NOT DARE gaslight working artists. IT’S NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY THAT COVID OR SOME TRADE WAR HAPPENED and I should not have to chase you down just because you’re having a hard time with your own company and life,” Huang wrote. “I have enough of a burden myself without taking on yours. Instead of thinking of excuses, think of the artists who rely on you and your punctuality to pay their own rent and to feed themselves during unemployment!”
Huang, who moved to the U.S. at the age of 14, says he had been drawing since childhood. He vividly remembers “constructing” a city with a family friend.
“In elementary school, before all the social media and all the digital procrastination, I would constantly draw when I’m supposed to be doing homework. I had a huge stack of paper under my bed, and would always be drawing and conjuring up stories through them, and in retrospect, I feel that it might’ve been my ‘rebellion’ against the societal pressure to focus on ‘more important’ subjects at school,” Huang told NextShark.
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Huang says after all he had gone through, he is now trying to get “a bit of rest.” He plans to visit his family in Taiwan this month, but he is still open to taking up freelance jobs.
The young artist expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped him take his hard-earned money.
“This still feels surreal to me; I wish I could thank every individual one of you who spoke out for me on social media. Thank you for sharing your own experience with different companies, and for teaching me that I’m worth more than I previously thought. There’s always going to be companies out there like this, but now I know better, and I hope that as a community we can hold future clients accountable for their actions, so no one has to live through this nightmare ever again.”
NextShark has reached out to AAP and Hyundai for further comment.
Feature Images via David Huang