A digital archive of Asian/Asian American contemporary art history

Yeh, Lily


"I think it was in 1966, in the church at the Public Housing Project on 4th Street and Washington Avenue, I heard gospel singing for the first time. The energy and joy radiating from the workshop and songs of the singers left me with a profound impression. I was particularly taken by a soprano voice which carried me to a mental height that I have never experienced before. Since then, the numerous contacts I have with black people and culture have infinitely enriched my life.

Through the study of mythology and religion, especially Tantric Buddhism, I came to realize that all energy, positive or negative, could be channeled into creative activity. Seeing the wastefulness of our social system, especially in terms of human resource, I came up with a proposal which aims to draw out the untapped creative energy in people and to utilize cast off natural and industrial materials. This proposal intends to transform a deserted urban lot into a community park.

Desiring to reciprocate the gift of that unforgettable experience which I received eighteen years ago at the Project Church, I wanted to install an outdoor sculpture garden at 4th Street and Washington Avenue. Before I had time to contact the church people there, Arthur Hall, Director of the lle Ife Cultural Center and the Afro-American Dance Ensemble, invited me to install a garden at his lot. Rewarded with a grant by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, I began working with the Ile Ife neighborhood community in North Philadelphia in July to create a community park.

Not living in the neighborhood and being an American Chinese women, I had a rough time trying to organize and motivate the youngsters to participate in the project. It was my good fortune that I met Joe Williams, an artist, builder and cook. Living right next door to the vacant lot, he knew the neighborhood and the children very well. Delighted to learn of my plan, he decided to help me with the installation work and to organize the youngsters.

His lot is bare and open. To create a sense of place, we first planted posts along the property lines and then fenced in the lot with the ropes and colorful trails. People in the community began to get excited when they saw that things were really happening in the lot. Pedestrians and cars slowed down as they passed by the lot, wondering what the activities behind the trails were all about. I was delighted when several senior citizens came to me and asked whether they could sit in the park when it was finished. I answered, 'Yes, please! This is a community park. It belongs to the people!' With the assistance of the youngsters we intend to install many colorful piece of sculpture and a mural of 10’x80’.

On September 20th, when the business community in the neighborhood celebrates a shopper’s day by closing off the streets for the pedestrians, we will dedicate our park to the people with festivities. The Afro-American Dance Ensemble will perform there to commemorate the occasion.

Whenever I work at the lot, youngsters come by to watch or help. I do hope that my effort to install a community park here will sow some seeds in their young hearts. May these seeds grow, blossom, and bear fruits in the future as the seed planted in me many years ago is bearing fruit now."

Lily Yeh, Personal Statement for "Ile Ife Garden Project", 1986

Gallery of Selected Works