Local Artist Profile

Houston-Based Contemporary Artists You Should Know

Get to know JooYoung Choi, Jamal Cyrus and Emily Peacock.

By Amarie Gipson Published in the Winter 2021 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Three Houston artists and 5 things they love.

Houston offers the perfect balance of cosmopolitanism and comfort, a dynamic that makes it possible to sustain life as a professional creative. Whether born, raised, or simply based in the city, artists are granted the opportunity to use their work to connect, explore and work towards more inclusive spaces within, and beyond the art scene. In order to shine a light on some of the city’s most accomplished visual artists, Houstonia asked JooYoung Choi, Jamal Cyrus and Emily Peacock to share five of the things they love. 

While Choi’s imaginative works dare us to dream, Peacock toys with the beauty of everyday life, and Cyrus merges fantasy and reality with American history. What inspires these artists to create?

Have Faith For You Have Always Been Loved, 2014, by JooYoung Choi.

JooYoung Choi

Raised in Concord, New Hampshire by way of adoption, JooYoung Choi is a multidisciplinary artist and world builder. As a young child yearning to be connected to her roots, Choi gravitated towards narratives in shows and films like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Sesame Street’s Follow That Bird and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Galvanized by a burning desire to find her birth parents, she used her art to process feelings of alienation, hoping to manifest her family’s reunion. Through painting, sculpture, puppetry, video and installations, Choi explores the mythology of her fictional land, the Cosmic Womb. As conceived by Choi, the Cosmic Womb is as autobiographical as it is imaginative, featuring intricately designed characters that recur in her two and three-dimensional work.

Five Things JooYoung Choi Loves:

  1. The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers: “This book is really radical and empowering.”
  2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988): “This film continues to grow with me, I refer to it a lot when I’m doing special effects in my video work. There’s a lot of puppetry and problem solving within it. It’s also a critique on gentrification.”

  3. GWAR: “Their music brings me so much joy. There’s something magical about a heavy metal rock band that also wants to be a puppet show at the same time.

  4. Trenton Doyle Hancock: “He’s my husband, best friend and such an inspiration. To have someone you can share things with and bounce ideas off of, everyday show and tell in our home. It’s been a great gift.”

  5. KymLe Bahn: “KymLe is also such a huge inspiration and certainly one of my big heroes. She’s a nurse who is a model for how it’s possible to make time for art even if it isn’t your full-time job, and how you can heal yourself and others with it.”

Ancestral Relic by Jamal Cyrus

Image: Jamal Cyrus

Jamal Cyrus

Jamal Cyrus works across sculpture, assemblage and performance. Inspired by material histories and the liberatory power of Black music, Cyrus investigates the successes and failures of Black political movements in the 1960s and 70s, as a continued form of self-education. His conceptual art practice employs objects like quilts and redacted FBI files to trace the way that American history is documented. As an extension of a project that used vinyl records, Cyrus created a fictional record label called Pride Records that was founded in Detroit in the 1970s and produces conscious music for organizing and politicizing urban youth. In his conception, the label was targeted by the US government which caused the eventual dilution of its revolutionary aims. Cyrus tells this narrative through a series of drawings, collages and installations.

Five Things Jamal Cyrus Loves:

  1. KTSU, circa 1993: “Houston radio back in the 90s was weirder and a lot more diverse.”
  2. Third Ward: “The neighborhood of Third Ward includes both schools that have been key to my upbringing (Texas Southern University and University of Houston).”

  3. Menil Collection: “The way the Menil collects different time periods and geographies, based on someone’s own interests and taste, what I saw in that museum fueled my artistic influences.”

  4. Blues People by LeRoi Jones: “I think he was doing something that people are picking up on and I’ve been listening to it on audiobook.”

  5. Concrete pad: “I started noticing these around the time gentrification was accelerating in the Third Ward, and they became, for me, a symbol of displacement and loss. This is compounded by the general occurrence of this type of erasure in our city.”


The artist pictured in an artwork entitled, Die Laughing.

Emily Peacock

From grief to motherhood and mental health, Emily Peacock uses humor to navigate the complexities of life. Her brightly colored images often feature textured backgrounds and spotlight everyday objects, like a single Dorito and her son’s fruit cups. For over a decade, her family members have served as the subjects and collaborators of her work. As both an artist and a full-time educator, Peacock is influenced by the alternative image-making processes she teaches her students. Her most recent body of work die laughing deals directly with the severe isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic and translates her personal experiences in an effort to destigmatize issues regarding mental health.

Five Things Emily Peacock Loves:

  1. Kudzu: “I love the nature in Houston, things are so green and lush.”

  2. FLATS Film Lab: “It’s nice to have a lab in town, I can buy film, process photos and I just love to support them.”

  3. Lord Huron: “They make very dark and mysterious sounds and it feels like the perfect soundtrack to make my work to.”

  4. Dave Chapelle: “If he started a religion, I would join it. I think he is the philosopher of our generation.”

  5. Slowpokes: “I would have lost my mind (again) if I didn’t have coffee shops. I like to bounce around to different spots in the city.”

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