Asian and Pacific Islander Adobe Stock artists share how heritage influences and inspires them

Adobe stock image by Jerilyn Guerrero.

Image credit: Adobe Stock / Jerilyn Guerrero.

In honor of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re highlighting a few of our brilliant API artists whose work reflects their unique backgrounds, experiences, and styles: Simi Jois, Daniel Adams, and Jerilyn Guerrero. These three artists were all recipients of the Adobe Stock Artist Development Fund in 2021, and each produced a commissioned collection now available on Adobe Stock. Their vibrant collections display their creativity and distinct artistic voices, drawing narratives and inspiration from their cultural heritage in diverse ways.

We spoke to each of these artists about their vision and inspiration to get to know them and the meaning behind their work in their own words.

Photographs by Simi Jois.

Images credit: Adobe Stock / Simi Jois

Simi Jois, photographer and culinary stylist

Simi Jois’s path to becoming a photographer was not straightforward. She has a marketing background, but her job left her feeling unfulfilled.

“I was raised in a creative family,” she explains. “I have this creative itch now and then where I just want to go make something.” After becoming a mother, she quit her full-time job but still needed to scratch that itch. “I tried a few things. I learned to play the piano. I went back to sketching and painting, but I wasn’t finding my voice through any of that.” So, she turned to one of her greatest passions – cooking. She started to blog about her cooking, taking pictures of the food she made, and a new passion for photography was born: “I just fell in love.”

Jois's commissioned collection for Adobe Stock is inspired by the Taste of Heritage creative brief. She shares aspects of her background as a first-generation immigrant in her images. “I really started seeing that we do need more representation in the media. My whole mindset changed in terms of creating authentic images, integrating lifestyle and culture.” For Jois, that means showing how people live in their regular, daily lives.

“I have images of men working in the kitchen, making chai in a modern kitchen. A family cooking. Someone picking up a phone in the background. All that is happening in the kitchen. I’ve seen extremely traditional [API] representations, showing us dressed in our silks with all our jewelry because that's how we celebrate, but that's not how we live day to day. So, I really want that to change. I'm hoping to get more of that kind of work on Stock."

Jois is excited and hopeful about bringing more images of her culture, customs, and routines into future projects. "It just feels like the gates are opened. Suddenly, the world has realized that there are different cultures that we can embrace. We can all accept one another, celebrate the uniqueness of each of these cultures, and learn from them. The more I see different cultures, the more I realize the basic human element remains the same. It’s just the way it’s enveloped and expressed is different.”

Photographs by Daniel Adams.

Images credit: Adobe Stock / Daniel Adams

Daniel Adams, photographer

Daniel Adams’s commissioned Adobe Stock project, “The Melanin Narrative,” explores themes of colorism and queer and masculine identity within Southeast Asian communities. We spoke with him and two consultants on the project to better understand the intention behind it and how these images highlight more nuanced identities within API communities.

“Our project was split into three parts,” says Adams. “The first was on the dark-skinned community in Malaysia. This community is more oppressed in general. The second part was on colorism and what it’s like being in the dark-skinned community facing colorism. The third part was what it means to be a man within the dark-skinned community. So, we wanted to celebrate those aspects.”

Ron Jeyathurai Backus, Creative Consultant and model for the project, explains, "We wanted to look for people who were disenfranchised on multiple levels. Not just because they have dark skin but queer, plus sized, or anyone marginalized. Usually, you have to be super masculine or feminine to be accepted and seen as desirable, especially if you are dark-skinned. We wanted to say, hey, these people exist. We need regular-looking folks in projects like this."

For Adams, it was critical to highlight the diversity within the Malaysian Tamil ethnicity. “I think one of the other things that made our project really special to our community was that it features people with different skin textures, different hair textures, and different weights,” says Vaneesha Krish, Creative Consultant who worked with Adams. “Typically, when Malaysian or Indian people are featured, it's often tokenized. You don't see what people from our communities really look like. It's like you have to have proximity to whiteness to be featured in some way. It was beautiful to see over fifty people from different backgrounds, from all over Malaysia, come together for this project.”

Adams’s work portrays the gorgeous, vibrant diversity of dark-skinned Asian communities — something we’re looking forward to seeing a lot more of in the future.

“One of the stylists on the project was telling me, if you do a Google search for tattoos, for example, it comes up with all white people with tattoos. You have to specifically search for 'dark skin tattoo' for the search engine to come up with a darker-skinned individual with a tattoo. I think, to move in the right direction, we need more representation, even in these smaller ways. I think it will take a long time to get there, but it's getting better.”

Illustration by Jerilyn Guerrero

Image credit: Adobe Stock / Jerilyn Guerrero.

Jerilyn Guerrero, illustrator

Jerilyn Guerrero is a Chamoru and Filipino multidisciplinary illustrator and designer. Her project, “Growing through joy,” depicts different ways of tending to yourself with care and grace to nurture peace and joy in your life.

“I think that, in the beginning, I was subconsciously creating art that used a lot of bold colors and figures that stood out in contrast to my experience of feeling like an outsider,” says Guerrero. “I’m still finding ways to express my heritage in my work through my own lens, but it comes through when I illustrate island women or use certain symbols or fashion inspired by my culture. In my Adobe project, I was able to directly share images inspired by my heritage.”

Her collection is full of bright, striking colors, depicting individuals of different ages, sizes, ethnicities, and identities.

“I try to leave myself open to inspiration, drawing from observations of my life and interests. But the subjects that I often come back to are bold and beautiful figures. I like to celebrate diversity and joy in my work. Since I know what it feels like to not see any reflections of myself or my people in art when I was growing up, I naturally gravitate towards showing as many diverse figures as I can, though I know I still have a lot more work to do and different ways that I can challenge myself.”

We’re thrilled to see these artists’ projects come together, giving us a glimpse into the wide variety of traditions and lifestyles that make up API experiences. For us at Adobe, it’s critical to support creatives who can share their unique perspectives with the world through their work. Visual media is a powerful tool to drive positive change in the world. As we celebrate API Heritage Month, we look closer at how Asians and Pacific Islanders are represented in the media and continue to highlight API creativity through programs like our Diverse Voices campaign.

If you’re an artist working with or expressing diverse communities in your work, you can learn more about applying for this year’s Artist Development Fund here. Check out our other Artist Development Fund recipients on the Adobe Stock Advocates program page if you're looking for more inspiration.