Okedoki’s Bao Bao Benny

Having unearthed clay from her family home’s front yard, her tiny hands shaped the material into figurines that hardened in the sun. “Toys were hard to come by”, the girl recalls years later, “so these clay figurines would bring a lot of joy into my little world”. And joy must’ve seemed a rare commodity in poverty-stricken, communist-controlled Vietnam. She would flee from her homeland in the ’80s, her family seeking refuge in Canada, but her love of creating never abandoned her and, with adulthood, her after-hours art career flourished. “I wanted my art to speak for itself and charter its own course”, she admits, “hence I had to let go of my real name”. While pondering a new identity to correlate with her imaginative works, she was inspired by the expression okeydokey, “which is a very Canadian saying”, she explains, that “means ‘okay'”. And, she reveals, that in order to “pay homage to the Japanese culture that inspired my art, I changed the spelling to Okedoki“.

The Early Works of Okedoki

Around the time she enrolled at the MacEwan University to study Traditional Chinese Medicine, “I started to collect designer vinyl from Kidrobot“, Okedoki discloses, who soon learned that other artists stripped the factory-painted decoration off these forms to hand-paint their own concepts onto them. “I was still exploring my artistic style”, she recalls of this period, which had been steered towards a figurative art direction as a result of her previous studies at the University of Alberta. Forging personal expressions imbued with everything from her fascination of the people that shape our culture to the iconic characters that inundate our screens, Okedoki’s next several years of work “helped me to transform my art into what it is today”, she confesses. Not only had it “allowed me to become a better sculptor”, the artist reminisces, but “one of my collectors [from this period] wanted to create his own production art toy company and asked if I had any original concepts”. The collector’s name was Vince Su, his then-fledgling company being VTSS, and the preliminary design that Okedoki revealed to him became Benny the Dreamer.

Okedoki’s Benny the Dreamer

While sculpting her first completely original form, Benny the Dreamer, “I was going through my cancer treatment and I knew I would never have a child”, Okedoki states. “I gave birth to an art child instead”, she continues, explaining how she “took what I loved and imbued it into Benny the Dreamer“. A deeply personal project, she channeled an “old black-and-white photo of a good friend of mine”, the artist recalls, her friend’s frozen expression being “a mixture of innocence and mischievousness”. Capturing that energy in her initial design through the child-character’s “sideward glance with a hint of mischievousness”, as the artist refers to it, this aspect has not remained a constant throughout Okedoki’s various sculptural and decorative evolutions of Benny the Dreamer since its April of 2011 debut. On the other hand, ever-present in Benny the Dreamer renditions are the old-fashioned shoes inspired by her friend’s photograph, a jacket in homage to the chilly climate of the artist’s adopted homeland, Okedoki’s vaguely signature piece of personal wardrobe (“I’m always wearing a scarf”, she proclaims, “even inside”), and the most apparent item: the imaginative, rabbit-eared cap. Having stemmed from the “idea of the white rabbit as the talisman and the guide”, according to the artist, the “nine eyes of the rabbit represented growth of oneself, to always evolve into a better version of yourself”. And through its various iterations, Benny the Dreamer has been whimsically light, frightfully nightmarish, and even blissfully baby-like, though potentially the most significant evolution was yet to come.

“I wanted to create Benny inwardly becoming aware of himself as the rabbit is fully enlightened”, Okedoki declares of her recent Bao Bao Benny evolution, which was offered to collectors in late 2018. Inspired by the Buddhist principle of satori, Okedoki set forth to visually interpret the “dichotomy of two stages in life”, specifically the young boy and the wise man, while simultaneously exploring “how similar they are”. But beyond contrasting the character’s youthful visage with the elderly, mustachioed rabbit aspect, the Bao Bao Benny sculpt “was a very special project for me and somewhat similar to the original Benny the Dreamer because it was also a very difficult time of my life”, Okedoki states. “At the time”, she elaborates, “I was going through some hardship with my mother”, who had suffered “a stroke and I was taking care of her. My mother was always the beacon in our family and had a tremendous amount of energy”, the artist explains, so to “see her wither and [be] bedridden was extremely hard for me”. Manifesting in a myriad of subtle ways, the Bao Bao Benny design is rife with symbolism: the two leaves represent her parents, the three flowers indicate the past, present, and future, and the “mushrooms are the catalyst to our evolution and awareness”, the artist’s intent for which may be gleaned in the rabbit’s potentially hallucinogen-fueled eye dilations. And an all-but-hidden ladybug residing on the backside of Bao Bao Benny‘s base “represented resiliency”, Okedoki says; “I always find ladybugs in the yard and they can survive through harsh conditions and even winter”, she discloses, adding how she “needed so badly to be resilient as my mother was going through her illness”.
“Every period of my life is reflected back into my art”, Okedoki says of her entire oeuvre, a body of work that thusly reflects her triumphs over “the darkest and most challenging chapters of my life”. And while works like Bao Bao Benny may be therapeutic in nature, their creation fueled by personal tragedy, they never succumb to exhibiting a bleak worldview. In fact, her works are the opposite, tiny forces of nature that can coax forth a smile on the darkest day. In the end, Okedoki’s art represents happiness. Or, as the artist herself succinctly states, “Okedoki is my ‘yes’ mantra to move forward and to always do better”.

For more information on Okedoki:
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