Nissa Tzun is a bilingual artist and advocate across multiple arts disciplines based in Las Vegas. Tzun’s artistry spans her entire life, but first truly fell into place as a special needs teacher in Brooklyn experiencing the “marginalization and oppression of Black and Brown [students].” This fueled her to seek outlets for her antiracist campaigns in New York. Her work has continued to include co-founding the Forced Trajectory Project (a PR and media advocacy organization for survivors and victims of police violence), producing at Residuum Docuseries (a series about police violence in Las Vegas), and co-establishing the New York City chapter of Families United 4 Justice (an organization made up of families and survivors impacted by police violence), later bringing another chapter to Las Vegas. In addition to her activism, Tzun is pursuing her Masters in Social Work and Masters in Journalism & Media Studies at UNLV! She urges young artists to discover their “why,” and is a firm believer in “being rooted in your purpose.. [to] help young people understand where their artistry can fit into society.” Read on to learn more about Nissa Tzun and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Nissa Tzun (pronounced NEE-SAH SUN)
Heritage: Chinese Canadian/American
Hometown: I've lived all over, but I was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, and I consider Brooklyn, New York my home.
Current City: Las Vegas, NV
Forced Trajectory Project: Residuum Docuseries, Water Slipping Through Our Fingers Art Memoriam, Direct Source events; Families United 4 Justice - Las Vegas
I am the co-founder of the Forced Trajectory Project (FTP), which is a media and public relations organization that advocates for victims and survivors of police violence. The project, which started in 2009, was initially a photojournalism project meant to bring visibility to the often unknown trajectory families impacted by police violence find themselves on. In 2010, I met my co-founder (and life-partner) Oja Vincent, who was already recording the oral histories of impacted families. We decided to join forces and make FTP more accessible to our audience by disseminating these narratives in multiple ways including long form journalism, oral history, photography, illustration and film. When we relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada in 2015, we began investigating cases that happened locally to see how our work could impact the local community. Now, in 2021, we are a grassroots media organization with a volunteer staff of 14 mediamakers.
Residuum Docuseries is a documentary series about local Las Vegas police violence that I have been producing since 2018 with the support of Community Change. There are currently four produced episodes, and they can be experienced here: https://www.forcedtrajectory.com/docuseries
We are scheduled to produce at least two more episodes this year.
Water Slipping Through Our Fingers: An Art Memoriam to Lives Impacted by Police Violence was an art exhibition FTP collaborated on with the Desert Arts Action Coalition and Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas. For several months we paired artists with impacted families and survivors to recreate their narratives and experiences on their own terms. The exhibition ran from January 21-March 30 at the West Las Vegas Library, however it can still be experienced virtually at: https://www.forcedtrajectory.com/art-memoriam
Direct Source: With the support of Nevada Humanities, we will be producing a series of live and produced podcasts, events, and screenings that will inform the movement against police violence, locally and nationally. Please stay tuned on our website for more updates about this project.
Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas (FU4JLV) is a local group of families impacted by police homicide and police brutality survivors organizing for collective power and systemic change. Currently we represent over 20 cases of police violence with 40+ members. We are in the midst of expanding statewide, also. In 2014 I helped establish Families United 4 Justice (FU4J) in New York City with my late friend Cynthia Howell, the niece of NYPD homicide victim Alberta Spruill. FU4J expanded nationwide by 2017 connecting hundreds of impacted families. I started the Las Vegas chapter in 2016.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects?
I don't know if I have a favorite… I'm very proud of all the above projects.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
Cantonese was my first language and I didn't learn English until I was around 4 years old. I still speak Cantonese fluently and try to speak it as much as I can. I feel very connected to my ancestors and roots when I speak Cantonese.
I am the descendant of Chinese Revolutionaries who were involved in the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the Qing Dynasty and ended dynasty rule in China.
I am named after my grandfather, who was heavily involved in the Chinese Civil War and had to flee to Hong Kong during the Communist Revolution. While I share a lot of socialist and communist values, I am very critical of the Chinese Communist Revolution and Cultural Revolution due to investigating and listening to the narratives of those who were involved in the Cultural Revolution as well as those who were persecuted during that time. As a human rights activist, I am against all crimes against humanity, especially by governments.
I am a dog mom to a German Shepherd and Doberman Pinscher mix. His name is Nicodemus and I have had him since he was three months old. He is now 15 years old, and doing very well in his old age.
I am married to FTP co-founder Oja Vincent, who is of Revolutionary Haitian descent.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
Three of my favorite moments organizing in New York City include: advertising the October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation at an Occupy Wall Street protest where my speech was echoed via the 'People's Mic' to waves of thousands of people at One Police Plaza.
Taking the streets with the New York community at Union Square during the Day of Outrage for Troy Davis, who was executed on September 21, 2011. Troy Davis was framed for killing a police officer, and his release from death row was vehemently advocated for by many human rights organizations including Amnesty International. The New York activist community was so outraged by his extrajudicial killing that thousands of people took the streets following his execution and marched to the financial district, where Occupy Wall Street activists had just started occupying Zucotti Park for a few days. It was the merging of these two movements during this protest for Troy Davis that helped amplify Occupy Wall Street's movement to its eventual national and global platform.
Finally, the third favorite moment I'm thinking of is when the families of the Ayotzinapa 43 (43 students who were disappeared by the Mexican police) caravanned throughout the US to implore Mexican nationals to vote in Mexico's elections came to New York to protest at the United Nations. I helped to organize a panel of New York families impacted by police violence and the Ayotzinapa families in Queens. The panel was bilingual, and we had translators. It was powerful to have these families meet and interact, and for the audience to realize that police brutality has no borders.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
I think it's important for young people to think about and focus on their "why?" Why are you getting into the arts? What is your purpose? How can you align your own principles and values with your creative process? Being rooted in your purpose will help young people understand where their artistry can fit into society.
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
I'd like to highlight the Texas After Violence Project, who currently serves as our fiscal sponsor. They do extremely important archival work around capital punishment and how it impacts Texas communities. I'd also like to highlight the Mass Liberation Project, who we work for as media consultants. They are a local and national movement working to end mass incarceration in Nevada and beyond.
How did you get your start?
I've been an artist all my life, but figuring out how to utilize it for social change took some time. It wasn't until I was a special needs teacher in Brooklyn that I really made that connection and pursued it. Witnessing the marginalization and oppression of Black and Brown children in the New York public school system was a catalyst for me. I began exploring ideas around how my photography and illustration could lend to antiracist efforts in my city. That wasn't until I was in my late 20's.
Who do you admire?
My first hero was Bruce Lee. It is so rare to see API folks highlighted in a positive light in the media, or even see us at all. Bruce Lee's life story is so informative of the Asian American experience. I also love the late Grace Lee Boggs. My life so far, I feel, really mirrors her life story and marriage with James Boggs.
Did you have any mentors?
I've had several mentors. My first ones being my mom and my dad, and my Godfather, who took their role as parents and guardians very seriously. I had a Psychology professor, Dr. Germana, at Virginia Tech whom I was very close to during my undergraduate years and several years after. His focus on holistic theories of social psychology and concentration on Eastern philosophies have influenced me to this day.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I definitely always have been an artist, and have always wanted to be an artist. There were other careers I was interested in also, and that I've delved into, like being an educator. But at the end of the day, I always define myself as an artist first.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
It's very difficult to be an artist and make a living. I've had to rely on many other aspects of my skill set to make it happen.
Where did you study at?
I studied at Virginia Tech, Long Island University, and currently I am getting my Masters in Social Work and Masters in Journalism & Media Studies at UNLV.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
I think the Forced Trajectory Project and Families United 4 Justice are my biggest accomplishments.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
I hope to one day produce feature length, impactful documentaries. I also hope to one day teach as a tenured professor at a university.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the process of creating art. It is such healing work.
Do you have any websites or social media pages you’d like to share?
Since the spring Nissa has embarked on a new journey as a spiritual consultant. Utilizing astrological knowledge, various divination modalities, and activating her knowledge in Psychology and Social Work, Nissa is now taking on clients who are committed to healing and growing spiritually. She also offers Oracle Readings, Vision Board Guidance, and Birth Chart Interpretations. Follow Nissa on Instagram at: @SolidariteKitchen
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