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As a child growing up in Sun City West and with strong family ties to the community, Kadhima Tung performed dances and martial arts during Chinese festivals in the Valley. Hence, it’s perhaps natural that the City of Mesa selected her to capture the vibrancy of Mesa’s Asian District with brush and paint.
“I had my pulse, growing up, on where all the main Asian gatherings would be,” said Tung, now a professional artist who lives in Mesa.
Tung has just completed the first set of many murals to come to the district, the one-mile stretch on Dobson Road in West Mesa, roughly between Broadway Road and Main Street.
The murals, drawn on both sides of the 13 pillars wrapping around Mekong Plaza, comprise the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac and a caricatured painting of the shopping center itself.
The color palette contains a lot of red, orange and yellow and the art has a whimsical, fun vibe. Each animal is drawn in the same art style and has something relatable to the culture in the background, such as an ingot, the Chinese symbol of prosperity, and the rising sun.
“I think it was really exciting for me personally, just because it’s very rare to have these chances,” said Tung, who graduated from Arizona State University with a painting major and runs an art business called Sloppy Brush (sloppybrush.com).
She called it a “really great experience.”
“I’m grateful to be able to paint these things and for me to give back just a little bit even to the general Asian community, because I definitely benefit from having all this stuff around here,” she said.
Born to Chinese Muslim parents when they were working in Saudi Arabia, Tung’s family moved to Arizona because her grandparents lived here. After living a few years in Sun City West, the family moved first to north Phoenix and then to Mesa in 2009.
Those days, cultural events used to be centered around the old Chinese Cultural Center in Phoenix, but after it was dismantled, and when Mekong Plaza opened, some of the activities moved here, Tung said.
“As an adult, I’m a little bit more detached,” she said. “It was very interesting growing up.”
Mekong Plaza is aptly named for the Mekong River that runs through China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. It’s a magnet for people of these ethnicities as well as others looking to explore the varied food and culture in their neighborhood without boarding an airplane.
Since Tung’s day-to-day cuisine is mostly Asian, shopping for weekly groceries were a challenge earlier, and took a whole Saturday afternoon, she said. Nowadays, thanks to the many stores located in this area and because she lives fifteen minutes away, it’s much easier.
“It’s a very big change and a very big convenience,” she said.
Established more than a decade ago, the Asian District comprises more than 70 restaurants, grocery stores, retail shops and other business services.
A series of large supermarkets such as H Mart, a Korean grocery store; Mekong Supermarket; AZ International Marketplace; and Asiana Market anchor a selection of ethnic restaurants serving everything from dim sum to boba drinks.
The City of Mesa aims to celebrate the diversity of cultures, community and commerce that make up the district and the mural project is expected to enhance its ambiance.
At Visit Mesa, community art is promoted whenever possible.
“Murals in general have become such magnets and attractions for visitors when they visit a destination,” said Michelle Streeter, chief communications and content officer. “We highlight those for our visitors because they become contact points – visitors go down to the murals and take pictures. We feature these murals in all of our marketing materials.”
Most of Mesa’s murals are centered Downtown.
“We’re really looking forward to the vibrancy that’s going to be added to the Asian District with this project,” she added.
Tung’s murals, as well as two other murals featuring elements reflecting Asian traditions and culture, are just the beginning, arts-wise, for the area.
The project is part of a larger branding and signage campaign to create awareness of businesses in the area, according to the city.
Street signage along Dobson Road has been updated with the Asian District logo, and several businesses display window clings of their logos on their storefronts.
Later, the city plans to install banners on street poles, traffic signal box wraps and large branded banners on buildings to help shoppers discover the area’s offerings.
Earlier this year, the city sent out a call for artists with the ability to capture the vibrancy of a community and produce large murals. More than 30 submitted applications and 11 artists were added to an artist roster, with members to be considered as opportunities arise.
Besides Tung, the artists are Sandra Bosscher, Ariana Enriquez, Francisco Garcia, Kai Ekbundit, Steve Kosar/Caroline Woods, Maria Madrid Reed, Lucretia Torva, Juyi Youk and Shela Yu.
Meanwhile, Tung is happy that her art aesthetic matched with the selection panel’s vision and she received an opportunity to create a semi-permanent fixture in a public space.
Mural art opportunities are limited, she said. “I’m grateful that I was selected.”
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