Antonius Bui, by their own definition, is a hot mess.
They smile when I explain how awkward it is for a writer who started her career as a high school English teacher to refer to an individual with a plural pronoun, no matter how much I respect one’s right to be gender nonbinary.
“It’s definitely grammatically confusing,” Bui acknowledged recently, chuckling at Lawndale Art Center, where their show “yêu em dài lâu (me love you long time)” is on view. They were wearing a tattered-looking top designed by their friend, Noel Puello, with almost as many cuts as their own paper tapestry-portraits.
No matter how many times I type it, argh.
Still, you can’t not like Bui, a cheerful 26-year-old resident at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, which is just across the street from Lawndale. Ask where they are from, and they have a sassy response: the planet Jupiter.
“I’m always interested in what it helps to be told that I’m Vietnamese,” they said. “So I say planet Jupiter to dispel that. But I did grow up in the Bronx, in a lovely Italian Catholic neighborhood, around most of my cousins. All my aunts and uncles, and my parents, had four kids each. So it was always a party after school.”
The artist’s parents were refugees who worked in the textile industry in New York before moving to Houston about 12 years ago. Bui went to Clements High School and spent the first two years of college at the University of Houston, studying chemistry to appease their family.
They ended up earning a degree at Maryland Institute College of Art and have been residency-hopping since then, with gigs in Baltimore, Vermont, Tulsa, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The Houston residency ends in February; then it’s on to fellowships in Saratoga, N.Y.; San Francisco; and Nashville, Tenn.