Clubhouse, the pioneering audio-focused social networking platform, has selected acclaimed artist, technologist and activist Drue Kataoka as its newest “icon.” This marks the eighth time the San Francisco-based company has chosen a face to represent its app, which has drawn 13 million users on iOS to date.
Kataoka — a Tokyo-born, West Coast-raised artist — is the first Asian American woman and first visual artist to occupy the role, which will last for several weeks in time for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Her selection also comes at an important time of reckoning in the U.S. for the treatment of Asian Americans, who have been targets of violence since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kataoka is one of Clubhouse’s earliest members. Since joining the platform after its launch in March 2020, the Silicon Valley artist has hosted open conversations on art, technology, politics and social issues, amassing more than 700,000 followers in the process.
“Social audio is a new frontier with tremendous opportunities ahead,” Kataoka tells NextShark. “I love getting involved with emerging platforms, because they still have a lot of creative malleability and sparks of potential.”
Kataoka recalls joining Facebook and Twitter in the first year after their founding. She says Clubhouse presents new opportunities for positive impact, but also new challenges.
“I was lucky to join Clubhouse in the very early days, and almost one year later it is still in an exciting infancy stage. The immediacy and viscerality of the experience is unprecedented — you open the app, and suddenly you are immersed in a room crossing wildly diverse geographies, socio-economic, religious and racial backgrounds,” she says.
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Kataoka has always been an activist. Over the years, she has leveraged art and technology for a range of causes as diverse as infant mortality, racial justice, gender equality, international activism and the rapekit backlog. Prior to joining Clubhouse, she conceptualized and executed large social impact virtual events with artistic components. These include last year’s #FindingBeauty and #OnlineProtest, which required her to build virtual green rooms for 70 or 80 guests and personally soundcheck each of them.
Kataoka describes her presence on Clubhouse as an extension of her work as an artist and activist. She created “The Art Club,” the oldest and largest art “Club” on the platform.
“After being on Clubhouse, I started launching large events for causes I believed in, with a lot less headaches,” she says. “Pretty soon I realized Clubhouse was going to be an extraordinary tool for activists, particularly as they are often stretched thin on (let’s face it) time and money.”
In a Clubhouse “Room,” Kataoka launched a #StopAsianHate campaign and fundraiser that surpassed its initial $10,000 goal within the first hour and has now raised more than $93,000 for the Asian American Federation (AAF). Following the recent passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in the Senate, she also hosted a fireside chat with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) on Clubhouse to discuss issues pressing the nation. Kataoka is also planning a conversation on Clubhouse with Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
“Hate towards Asian Americans is skyrocketing. Each morning over coffee, disturbing images flood our phones: an Asian man getting his head stomped on, an Asian man stabbed, an Asian grandma attacked, six Asian women shot down in cold blood. And this problem will get worse especially if we are complacent and not vigilant,” Kataoka warns.
“It is rooted in coronavirus fears, but also in a long and deep history of racism towards Asians in America, and in surging geopolitical tensions between China and the U.S. that will only escalate, and add fuel to the evil fires of hatred.”
— NYPD Hate Crimes (@NYPDHateCrimes) April 24, 2021
Kataoka says she struggled to sleep in the middle of all the violence. She wanted to raise funds immediately, and with the suggestion of her friend, former U.S. Ambassador Curtis Chin, she decided to donate to the AAF.
“I started a Clubhouse room to lead a discussion on this topic and invited Curtis, David Chiu, Andrew Lee, Garry Tan, Jaeson Ma, MC Hammer, Suzy Willow, Hong Lee, Yuh-Line Niou, Jo-Ann Yoo, Sonja Rasula, Bao Nguyen, Meera Venugopal, Kimberly Hard, Justin Kan, Cassian Yee, Mitra Kalita, Leiti Hsu, Axel Mansoor, KeyofCMajor and dozens more. That first room raised $10,000 in one hour, but we didn’t stop there,” Kataoka tells NextShark. “With many subsequent rooms, we, the Clubhouse community, not only raised funds but drove awareness around the issue. Today our fundraiser has raised over $93,000 towards our $100,000 goal.”
Aside from organizing a fundraiser, Kataoka is calling for all Asian Americans to stand in unity against hate.
“The recent wave of anti-Asian American violence has been soul crushing. It is fueled by ignorance, racism and a malevolent sense of entitlement to cause pain. My heart goes to those who have been hurt,” she said. “We, the Asian American community, need to finally come together as a social force, and I deeply appreciate the work that NextShark is doing in this area. We desperately need to take a strong stand, or we will be much more severely victimized in the coming months and years.”
Kataoka believes that haters have no appreciation for how diverse Asian Americans are.
“Up to this point we have been too fragmented. We need to understand that standing together does not mean we are sacrificing our rich diversity. For the haters, we are not Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino, Hmong, Cambodian, Taiwanese, Indonesian, or so many more beautiful cultures,” she says. “For them, we are all yellow, we are all Asian and they target us for that.”
Kataoka urges Asian Americans to look out for each other, educate friends, demand better representation in Hollywood and push policymakers to drive change. She also calls for support for leaders who take “bold and courageous” moves for the community across social media platforms — including Clubhouse, of course.
“I strongly believe Clubhouse is now poised to become an important driver in the social impact space by nature of the experiences of users, now coupled with the technical integration to directly raise money for social causes inside the app,” Kataoka says. “My advice to activists would be to experiment, and not worry about the audience size at first. Iterate and find what is working best in terms of retention and success outcomes (whatever those might be for you).”
The news of Kataoka’s selection as the platform’s newest icon came from a company member days before the iOS update had dropped. She says she is grateful it gives her an opportunity to create more visibility.
“As an Asian American, I believe it’s important that we continue highlighting the experiences of our community — especially at this moment of crisis when we are being targeted and our community is hurting. The selection as the ‘icon’ gives me an opportunity to create more visibility,” she says. “I’m sad to have to say that some have asked, why an Asian person? So for those who don’t know me, I think it is really important to share that over the years I have championed countless initiatives across racial and geographical lines. For decades, as an artist and activist, I have fought racial hatred of any form — Asian hate, Black hate, Native American hate, Latino hate, LGBTQ hate.
“Because, as Dr. Martin Luther King described in his landmark essay ‘World House’: ‘The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.’”
Kataoka has expressed gratitude to her friends and Clubhouse family, including Curtis Chin, Kat Cole, Swan Sit, Tina Tchen, Eric Kim, Dylan Taylor, Rachel Lyons, Ron Garan, Jaeson Ma, Kunal Sood, Jessica Turco, Marie Rocha, Garry Tan, Wilkins Chung, Rachel Masters, Jeremiah Owyang, Lady Phoenix, Von Wong, Minh Do, Andi Lichtenfeld, Van Jones, Amir Soleymani, Alisa Jacobs, Jin Diesel, Ariel Wengroff, Soulaima Gourani, Akemi Look, Joey Ng, Rahaf Harfoush, Leah Lamarr, Nadya Okamoto, Ben Satterfield, Elise Bernal, Noelle Chestnut Whitmore, Mohit Arora, Melissa Tal and Alex Fox to name just a few.
— Clubhouse (@joinClubhouse) April 25, 2021
Kataoka tells NextShark that the best way to advocate for the Asian American community is to educate oneself on facts and speak up. She cites the latest tally of anti-Asian incidents from national coalition Stop AAPI Hate, and how Hollywood, for all its glamour, can do better.
“Representation of Asian Americans in the arts and entertainment landscape is abysmal. In a list of the top paid people in entertainment, according to Forbes, there is only one AAPI actor, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (whose mother is of Samoan heritage and whose father is of Black Nova Scotian heritage). No Asian American women. No East Asian American men,” Kataoka recalls. “Switching to business, my friend Eric Kim points out that out of 219 C-level execs and board members at the 10 largest U.S. public companies, there are only two representatives from the Asian American community. And did you know Asian Americans are the least likely group in the U.S. to be promoted to management?
“And finally in politics, the Senate has only two Asian American Senators and the House of Representatives has only 12 Asian American members — so we are over three times underrepresented in our government, relative to our share of the U.S. population.
“The numbers are just as bad across the field of my work, contemporary art.”
Feature Images via Drue Kataoka