She Is Becoming – Speaking of Candy

A Speech Given at the Opening Night of Candy R. Wei’s Art Exhibition
Jewett Sculpture Court, Wellesley College, March 4, 2003

Jing Wang

I would like to thank you all for coming. Some of you came to listen to a speaker address the thematic concerns of the Asian Awareness Month held here at Wellesley College. I also hope that some of you came because you are interested in my daughter Candy Wei’s art exhibition and wish to find out more about her. The organizer of this event very graciously told me that I should feel free to talk about any subject I think appropriate. I quickly realized that I am in an unfamiliar territory. I realized that this is the first time in my twenty years of academic career that I am addressing an audience who didn’t come to hear me talk about my research and scholarship.

I came here to speak in several capacities. I will speak as the mother of an artist-poet whose exhibition was the main reason that brought me here. I am a literary critic trained to interpret texts and meanings. I am also a professor of Chinese cultural studies at MIT where I have enjoyed teaching a primarily ASIAN American student body. And perhaps most relevant to the organizer of this event, I have been an advocate for the reform of university mental health services for students.

When Tuyet Nguyen first approached me about a speaking engagement in conjunction with Candy’s art exhibition, I hesitated. I had spoken twice in public about Candy in the past two years. At each time my mission rested on a singular purpose. The first occasion was intensely personal. It was a speech given at the memorial service held for Candy at Duke University where she grew up and where I taught then. My mission on that occasion was to help our friends in the Duke community come to terms with the pain and deep confusion that survivors often felt toward those who committed suicide. The second occasion was my interview with the ABC Evening News, aired last February. In that ABC news segment, the story about Candy was framed in the context of university mental health crisis.

I helped frame two different Candys for the public audiences obsessed with the message her suicide conveyed. The Candy commemorated at Duke was a dear child whom our community lost; the Candy presented in the ABC Evening News was a victim of inadequate mental health service on campus. Neither frame is viable because they tell us little of who Candy was and nothing about the organic co-existence of her art and her illness. So in my talk today I want to experiment with a different frame that will allow me to talk about Candy’s art and her mental illness at the same time, and, in the process of linking the mental to the artistic, I would like to introduce you an alternative vision about a creative approach to mental health education. This is an approach that emphasizes self-empowerment of the mentally ill students through the staging of their own creative projects. I am not sure if I will be able to accomplish everything I set out to do.This is a complex agenda. It has been a long time since I looked at Candy’s art and writings on her web site. It was an intense experience that required extreme self-constraint on my part to navigate through. I am not certain if I was able to sustain the same level of mental concentration that I wish to. Above all, I wrestled with an indecision as to whether I should speak as a mother or as a professor. Therefore, you may find what I will demonstrate later a bit fragmentary and perhaps incomplete because of the difficulty I am speaking of.

This is the first real art exhibition that Candy had. I would like to invite you to get acquainted with her as an artist who has a story to tell and a vision to convey through images. What is her vision like? There may be several visions. And I don’t feel entitled to monopolize the interpretation of her work. But the one vision that intrigues me and speaks to me most powerfully as a mother and a Buddhist is her dramatization of the passage through which the deceased have to travel before entering a new cycle of life again. I am speaking of the egg and sperm series in her work to which Candy devoted the last year of her life in conceptualizing and creating. The series is made up of three dozens of drawings, paintings, and wood block prints that celebrate the magic moment of the fertilization of the egg. If you immerse yourself in those works, you will experience her joyful vision about living, and her obsession with capturing the very instant when life comes into being. You would hardly suspect that this was created by an artist who was going to give up living.

I will show you several images from that series:

Sperms dancing on the egg. The dancing sperm in the foreground and on the left side resemble musical notes. A visual concert, light-hearted and festive.

sperm – A sperm swimming toward a matured egg which is absent in the frame. But if we put this image back into the context of the entire series, we would know that the absent egg is the home and point of destination for the bat-like creature of a sperm.

The next image I will show you is on exhibit – wood block prints of different colors – the centripetal lines that move toward the circle – the symbol of the egg – are representations of sperms.

Candy’s assignment to Justin Life and Justin’s drawing in response. Candy had a good friend in high school Justin, who is also an artist, who often looked up to Candy for inspiration and for new creative assignments. In this email Candy sent to Justin, she gave him a new drawing assignment:


Justin’s drawing in response.

January 31, 2000

hi there. i’m glad that school’s finally in session. i’m having an okay time here. i’m trying to finish an english paper on racial politics. it’s challenging because it’s such a complex issue.
i have a drawing assignment for you …after months and months of thinking…
draw an entity being born WITHOUT using the common imagery. like don’t draw a mother giving birth to her baby, and don’t draw a horse giving birth to her colt. don’t do shit like that. an entity can be anything. it can be human, but it can’t resemble one physically (it has to be representational); it can be an animal; it can be a star; it can be a machine; it can be anything, but it has to be representative of that entity in some way. you can use any medium you want. i’ll expect to see it during the summer. no hurry or anything.

This e-mail documented the birth of the egg and sperm series in Candy’s mind. It shows us how consciously Candy had been grappling with the issue of the representation of birth.

Looking at those images, we can raise many questions. How do we reconcile Candy’s life story with her signature series of the egg and sperm motif? Did she embrace life? Or did she give up life? Did her suicide tell us one story, and her art another? Did the two conflicting versions deliver us the image of an artist torn between life and death? An easy and conventional interpretation. Or is there certain consistency between what happened to her life and what she created as an artist? Whatever the answer is, one thing remains clear to me: without her struggle with schizophrenia and with what comes with it – a haunting voice that told her to kill herself now and then – without that illness, there would be no egg and sperm series. She would not have consistently nurtured such a powerful attachment to images of life and birth.

As a mother, I read something more into her work which prompted me to name this exhibition “She is becoming.” I saw in the series Candy’s unconscious yearning not only for birth, but for rebirth.

Shortly after she recovered from her first psychotic episode at 15, she started a new zine – Yteicos – “society” spelled backwards.

She opens the founding issue with a quote from Jim Morrison:

“Why the desire for death.
A clean paper or a pure
white wall. One false
line, a scratch, a mistake.
Unerasable. So obscure
by adding million other
tracings, blend it,
cover over.

But the original scratch
remains, written in
gold blood, shining.

Desire for a perfect Life.”

The desire for death is a desire for a perfect Life.

After Candy died, I came across this poem and the first issue of Yteicos again. It was another moment of epiphany for me. I understood, belatedly, that this Jim Morrison quote was a translation of her own mental condition. It spoke to Candy so powerfully that she used it as an opening piece for the inaugurating issue of Yteicos. It spoke to her because it would become a footnote on her own decision later. The desire for death is a desire to start over again. That was what Candy the artist always did. When she was drawing or painting, if she made a tiny mistake, instead of mending it, she always threw it away and started over with a new canvas. She had no tolerance for even “one tiny scratch.”

Now I want to show you two images that speak out loud her unconscious desire for starting over.

Candy’s last painting (water color) – December, 2000 – a little over a month before her suicide. The timing of this water color is significant. Living under the shadow of death, Candy was still thinking about birth. But I think the moment of “birth” here already takes upon the meaning of re-birth. The most unambiguous image of rebirth she created is found in the wood block print of an old fetus in a womb.

The concept of rebirth is visualized here in the old fetus stuck uncomfortably in an irregularly shaped womb, with one foot sticking out impatiently. In an earlier water color version of this same motif, the womb looks like a big box.

One foot of the fetus is already out. Outside the cube stands this little vegetation strewn with red berries or flowers. One tiny berry even fell inside the box. A sign of spring and rejuvenation.

Those images provide us her cryptic messages about rebirth. But there is at least one occasion where Candy placed “rebirth” explicitly in the context of death. It is found in a companion piece to the Morrison quote, her editorial for the first issue of Yteicos:

Quote Candy: “Death is the passing from this tortured existence to a better time, a better place. In some religions, this is a heaven, in some, a hell. Possibly the only afterlife is a void, where we sit waiting for rebirth, and a vicious cycle of pain will begin again.”

This strange condition of waiting in a void for rebirth after one died is captured in another series of her work – photo collages on the bardo. The “bardo” is the Tibetan term for the limbo between death and reincarnation. It spans forty-nine days.

The bardo is a painful state of becoming, visually captured in strange, alienating physical landscape. The dead is not made totally aware of her own departure from this earth and is roaming across unfamiliar realms she cannot recognize. There is a confusion as to where the landscape belongs and where she is. It is neither heaven nor hell, as she said, nor the earth. This series of photo collages captures the liminal state of becoming.

One final image I will take you to visit is a mind spot of Candy’s where the visual meets the verbal, where she named schizophrenia, visualized it, and rendered inseparable from her vision of rebirth which is ultimately overlapped with the metaphor of growth. It is a booklet she made that combined graphic design with words. It is a reinterpretation of Deleuze and Guattari’s famous postmodern classic A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Candy was inspired by what the root meaning “schizo” could visually evoke. Every page in her booklet is split in half. She was also fascinated with the companion notion of “rhizome” (rizum), a term in botany. A rootlike subterranean stem that keeps splitting and growing. She writes on a half page: “When a rhizome is broken, it returns to the root and reconnects.”

This quote is accompanied by images of splitting, (therefore) multiplying sperms seeking to fertilize eggs.

This image and all those other images I have shown you recapitulate a paradox: Even though Candy’s art celebrates birth and rebirth, it foreshadows her death. Yet on the other hand, precisely because her art is preoccupied with images of becoming, it delivers us from total despair. I am, of course, biased as a mother, in my appreciation of Candy’s work. But I think even total strangers would have to marvel at her ability to translate her struggle with schizophrenia into an artistic vision that blurs the boundaries between tragedy and comedy.

Creativity and Mental Health Education

I spoke earlier about my reaction to how Candy was framed in the ABC Evening News segment – she was framed as a victim of delinquent mental health services on university campuses. I have very mixed feelings about that frame. On the one hand, I was using media to gain public support to pressure university campuses to reexamine student mental health services. But on the other hand, I disagree with those advocates of mental health reform who take the conventional approach of presenting those who died of suicides and the mentally ill as victims. I think it is the wrong approach because it implicitly denies the agency of mental patients. It leads parents and mental health staff to stake all their hopes about possible changes to come at the institutional level only. That is a top-down approach that offers a support system located externally to the patient. Therefore, it fails to recognize the possibilities of self-empowerment as a viable instrument of healing, and as an instrument of preventive therapy. But what does this have to do with Candy and artistic expressions?

The point of connection lies in the potential of creativity as a means of healing and self-empowerment. Candy had her first psychotic episode at the age of 15. It was a very severe episode. It took her a full year to be able to stand back on her feet again. She coped with it by writing poetry and thinking about starting her first literary zine. And during that long period of recovery (1995-96) she never stopped painting. The androgynous angel and the screaming female figure – two pieces in this exhibit – were completed during that time. Through the creative outlet, she was able to maintain a precarious balance between living a mental patient’s life and a normal life. But eventually, we know it was not enough for Candy to fight alone – in isolation.

This alternative, creative, approach to mental health education that I want to talk about has a real life model. It is a group model called Mentality. Mentality was established in 1996 by a small group of passionate students at the University of Michigan who were dedicated to addressing issues of mental health in a new and provocative way. Mentality is a performance and mental health advocacy group. At the core of this student organization is the use of creative art and expressions to “create safe and liberated spaces” in which participants feel free to “share, discuss, and explore their own pain, hope, fears, and ideas in a step toward both individual and community healing.” They are particularly interested in using theater as a medium for connecting. They have staged their performances in the form of theater, dance, art, poetry, and other means of creative expressions. Contrary to the stereotyped images of mental patients, the performers on stage are capable, intelligent, functioning students who either have a mental disease, or are their allies in the movement to educate the public about mental illness. They fight stigma by re-humanizing the issues, empowering not only the performers but the audiences. What is most valuable about this model is its potential to break through the thick wall of silence about mental illness. It is the best preventive model available that stresses the self-healing capacity of the mentally ill.

Inspired by the model of Mentality, I have grown a curricular vision which is still premature. But I would like to share that with you. I envision a credit-giving course on the Psychology of the Theater. The course will examine materials in both Asian and world theater, of both classical and modern period, that deal with depression, mental derangement, and suicides. The course should be publicized to the entire student body, but more importantly designed to reach out to students who have experienced symptoms of instabilities & depression at the present or in the past. Side by side with those historical plays, clinical literature on depression and mental illnesses will constitute the other half of the syllabus. Performances of the students’ own skits and plays — what we will call “laboratory work” at MIT – will constitute a major component of this class. The challenge is staffing. Because of the sensitive and dangerous nature of role playing, and by implication, the use of human subjects in research and teaching, this course would require team-teaching involving both a staff member in clinical psychology and a professor in Theater and Drama. I approached the authorities at MIT and gathered some interest in this curricular vision. But I have yet to follow it up by identifying interested colleagues in Theater and Psychology and persuading them to work together to develop the course. It is not going to happen overnight. This is, in fact, the first time I am tossing this idea out to a public audience. I don’t know if it is feasible.

What I do know is that somebody like Candy would appreciate this course. She would feel invigorated by the experimental spirit of a structured creative peer group like this. It would help her relieve feelings of oppression imposed on her by the silence that surrounds topics of mental illness and suicide. There are many endearing moments about Candy that linger in my mind to this day. One such moment comes alive whenever I am thinking about this hypothetical course. It was an afternoon when she came back from school (her last year in high school) and told me in an outburst of excitement , “Mom, I was chosen to play Ophelia in Hamlet!” She was proud of being cast in the role of the insane Ophelia. I couldn’t quite understand her excitement then. I thought that being intensely shy and private, Candy was out of her character to say yes to such an assignment. But I was wrong. Today, my mental image of a liberated Candy on stage, acting out her fears and her shame for being mad, stays very much alive in my mind. This is my personal footnote on the pedagogical vision I am speaking of.

Finally, coming back to the main reason of why we gathered here today, I hope that catharsis, which is the emotion that links creative performance with self-empowerment and healing, is the emotion you will experience as you walk through Candy’s work and appreciate her vision of the comedy of becoming.

I would like to give my heart-felt thanks to the three people who made this event possible. Richard Streitmatter-Tran, Tuyet Nguyen, and Wileen Kao. I am very grateful to my colleagues and friends from Foreign Languages and Literatures at MIT who drove all the way from Cambridge to participate in this event. And my thanks to all of you who came today to explore with me the mind of an artist and to create new meanings in life through Candy’s art.

Liu Yong


现实中,与生活有关的事物却是无法停止的,每天都需要面对他们,或轻松、或麻烦、或 生动而神奇的。


我觉得有时候我真是很迟钝,是前段时间才读到您写的 —— 发布在中文CC网站的 —— 怀念您女儿的文章,并借着 Google 翻译阅读了 ,感觉很悲伤, 很震惊,悲伤可能源自对一个幼小生命被无情的毁灭;震惊可能是由容容作品带来,它似 乎描述到了人类非常内在而核心的东西,其实之后也引发了我更多一些的想象。

当然,我也把容容的故事,用易懂的方式讲给了我女儿听,并和她一起看了一些容容的作 品。

但当时,还是犹豫了一下,没有立即给您写信,我甚至设想,您是在用一些行动去化解思 念,也许我不该再去打扰您,但同时亦想能给您一些安慰,虽然它也许是微不足道的。

关于生命,似乎总是有很多话题,比如最近的乔布斯,虽然国内的讨论浩浩荡荡,并且转 眼也会烟消云散,但我觉得,他们都是在对每一个人做出了某种善待生命的启示。

罗罗嗦嗦说了一些,但也许可以总结为一句:活着虽然沉重,但仍然很好,因为人总是可 以相对自由的做一些自己感兴趣的事情,并借以延续某些生命的意义。

~ 刘勇,于 10/16/2011

Gail Woods

I will always remember Candy as being our little girl who was intelligent, bright, loving, caring and most importantly a talented artist. I was looking forward to seeing her name under illustrations in children’s books. All of us, as well as the rest of the world, will now miss the opportunity of enjoying these wonderful illustrations.

Love to you, Candy.

Marcus Wei

One thing that had always fascinated me was Candy’s art. Being a very modest person, she rarely mentioned her talent for drawing. Last summer when I was working in California, she came to visit her relatives.

I knew that Candy was an artist, but I had never actually seen what she could draw. Finally, we did ask if we could see some examples of what she drew. All she had were some sketches she had drawn during the trip to California, but I was still curious to see them. Her drawing style was not what I had expected. Done with just a pencil on white paper, she had made works of art that were beyond what I had expected. Most of them were made of just simple curves and shades of gray, but put together to form something much more complex and elegant. I had been expecting her pictures to be of great detail, of everyday objects and people. Instead, she had taken simple designs and created images that were far more beautiful. We spent a while flipping through her sketches, and seeing a part of our cousin that existed in her art.

Wang Jing

在我的記憶中.容容身穿白色的芭蕾舞裙從你的屋门走出。那是一個夏日的黄昏, 陽光起初是金色的,它照在你們家門前的草地上,容容腳上穿著一雙薄薄的舞鞋, 她踮著脚,輕輕、快速地從灑著光斑的草地上跑過.她的純潔而美麗的臉帶著仙女的笑容

我是多麼有幸看到世上有過這樣一個美麗的女孩子,又是多麼悲哀在容容此生此世見到她。 我希望在一個我無法知道的來世,我能再一次見到容容,見到一個同檬美麗但卻與她此生 的命運完全不同的容容。我不知道我在來世會是什麽,倘若我變成容容門前的一棵草木, 我希望我也能看到她,看到她那一世的幸福。

遵照你的指引,我為容容做了那些事情。當白色的光從她身上走過,我看到她干淨得象是 透明了一般,她閉著眼睛,表情平靜,当我仔细地看她時,我還能看到多少年前曾在她臉上 出現過的那一絲仙女的微笑。後來她很快地就飄了起來,她朝著白光飄了過去, 在她接近了那束光的時候,她輕輕地一跳,她跳入了光中,她整個身體都變得更白了, 她也放著光,直到變成了光的一部分。

事实上我相信的是,逝去的人可能是容容也可能是我,因为我们本是一樣的生命,虽然我们 从来没有这样说过。我们就象这飘浮在世上的尘埃,有时碰巧挨在一起,有时再过一千年 也不能照会。容容就是这样让我感到相遇的偶然和悲哀,她的过世会永远地停留在我的思绪中, 它使我感到的活的哀痛永远不会有缓解的可能。

我好象再也不想说什么了。除了遵照你的嘱咐为容容做了那些事情以外,我只能继续生活下去, 知道这世上不会有什么奇迹。

Wei-Fang and Cheng-hong Su

We first met you at your Vermont house in the summer of 1984. Your pretty, lovely smile and face are still vivid in our mind. You were a happy little girl as sweet as your name, full of fun and ideas. We enjoyed our staying in your house including our two sons, Anjey and Anyih.

Then, we met you again at your Durham house in the summer of 1989. You were still pretty but quiet. You were more mature than your age with a mind of determination and independence. We were so surprised to see you putting many complicated puzzle pieces (in thousands) into beautiful pictures. You have shown your artistic talent at such young age already.

Your parents keep us informed your accomplishments in academic and art although we have not seen you again. You have done more than the average people can do in their whole life. Your art works bring us to see and to think the life in different angle that will last forever. We are very proud to know you. We will speak highly and frequently on your unusual intelligence.

Jonah Siegel

I was very sad to receive your original message. Not a day since has passed without my thinking of Rong-Rong [Candy’s middle name]. I do not see her as she was last time we briefly crossed paths, but every time I think of her I see her as a beautiful child in a white wooden house that is bright with the light of Vermont. The college years segregate the ages–and, coming from a small family, I had spent little time with children. Rong-Rong was one of the many gifts you brought to our small college, small town, to our education of heart and mind. I have had reason to be grateful to you before. I will certainly seek out a good deed to do in the next two days. But that won’t be the only time I think of your daughter. I know the image I have of her is as indelible as it is beautiful and important.

Satsuki Scoville

Sweet Candy

I met Candy in 1996 when she came to work at the Duke University Humanities Computing Facility, where I had been working since 1994. We were both at that department by the same connection: Rick Kunst knew my mom Taki and I got a job; Rick knew Candy’s mom Jing and Candy got a job.

I don’t think I quite realized then how fortunate I was to be able to observe Candy drawing and creating and working. I deeply appreciated and enjoyed visits to Candy and Jing’s house, where Candy would openly and generously show me her recent collages, paintings, poems, jewelry, photographs, newsletters. I continue to be in awe of Candy’s academic and artistic vision and talent, as well as her willingness to share her gifts with others.

There are some parallels between me and Candy. We both shared thoughts about why being of Asian descent is a special asset, but can also be an obstacle. We have both needed to help people learn how to pronounce our Asian names correctly. (Rong-Rong is not pronounced like the English words: “wrong wrong”. Satsuki is not pronounced like the motorcycle company: “SuZOOki”.) We both received a Tamagochi toy as a gift (remember those little electronic keychain egg creatures that needed feeding and loving?), and when I told her I was keeping mine in the original packaging, she joked that she also was never going to open hers. We both are lucky to have strong, independent mothers. Candy was special to me like a sister.

Candy, how fun it was to spend a New Year’s Eve with you and Lawrence and David (the pizza with pineapples and pinenuts was the best), to browse the bookstore together (we laughed and laughed and laughed about The Gas We Pass and Everyone Poops), to listen to music together (I really don’t look like Bjork!), and to exchange emails with you (you were so good about asking me about my dog, my work, my mom).

How I wish I had known you when you were younger. How I wish I had been better about keeping in closer touch with you. How I wish for you to be at peace, and safe.

I love you, sweet Candy.
Satsuki / Sunshine

Music and Lyrics Loreena McKennitt

When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone
I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Then the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and fire
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars
Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We’ll rise above these earthly cares
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Please remember me

Matthew Schultz

The wind moves the new growth. And today, we begin again. In different ways, from different lessons.

I have counted the hours, as you, but we discovered different totals. Still, these angles only support your gifts. Existence, I have realized, cannot be proven false.

Triangles, like explanations, spin out of my waking dreams. They filter each other, overlaying raw material into deeper patterns. I look at the geometries and question the wonder of their construction. Which meaning resides in the heart?

Once, I glimpsed something spectacular. The shades moved in layers far above me. Today, in the dormant trees, the colors come and go. In memory, though, they count against the waging minutes. Time has no claws against honesty.

In some ways, life becomes a story. It was very cold that week. The guardians of life hid in their tall houses while the trees lifted themselves in sadness. In the silence, the sky understood.

Soon the spring morning rises, and the light rings both louder and softer, in different ways, with the same emotions. An ellipse connects again, but its glow is not trivial or vacant. This rhythm, keeping each in time with the other, will never be wasted.

The air changes again, the cycle comes to its head. And whether I ask the questions or not, the shine remains. I hear a space different than my own, and though in reaching I am not touching, I am still feeling.

The flowers begin the day beautiful, and guiding, and open,
and true.

Matt Schultz’s recollections of Candy, as quoted in the Michigan Daily on January 18, 2001

LSA senior Matthew Schultz filled with emotion as he recalled Wei’s passion for art. “She is one of the few examples of a true artist. Everything she produced was meaningful and touching,” Schultz said. “She is someone who was engaged in the world.”

Schultz, who worked with Wei on the literary and art online publication Eat the Monster, said she was a gifted artist in many different ways. Wei also wrote short stories and worked on the website for the Michigan Independent, an opinion magazine.

While working with Wei, Schultz found she was ambitious academically and artistically.

Schultz described Wei as a hard worker who put a lot of pressure on herself.
“She tried to involve herself in many things,” Schultz said.

Bibby Moore

Speaking of Candy:
When I first met Candy, she was nine and I was forty-six. I liked her right away and I think she liked me. When Candy came to our house to eat dinner, I always took some time to talk with her about what she was doing and about art I had been doing. When she was younger, ten to eleven years old, I would set her up at my desk with some art supplies so she could draw if she wanted to rather than listen to the adults “drone-on”.

When Candy published her high school newsletter, Rick and I contributed to its publication and I sent in a short article and drawing. I wanted to support her work. Candy was a voice among all the Jordan High School students commenting on truth, honesty, and justice. The articles dealt with the disillusionment of the media, TV, ads, movies showing us a false world, glamorous and deceitful. Candy was a gentle person but had a piercing edge.

Whenever we visited Candy’s house, I always had time to visit with Candy in her room, looking at her latest art work. She was exploring something different each time. When I first got to know her, I was going to China to visit with Rick. Rick and I had just met and had been separated for four months. I missed him terribly. Candy drew a picture of me as a lady turtle with heels, pearls and a suitcase going to China. In the next scene I was in China in Rick the turtle’s arms kissing. I loved the drawing because of the sweetness and because I love turtles. I didn’t know then that Candy often used animals to carry her thoughts and emotional messages.

The next thing I knew Candy was off to college. In March 2000 I finally got to connect with Candy and her web site:

It’s good to hear from you. My website was originally created for my computing class. My professor said that she liked looking at it. I haven’t been updating it frequently though. I just don’t have time anymore. A website that is updated daily is considered “evergreen,” and a website that is never updated is “brown.” My site is pretty brown.

My mother and I might go to Europe during the summer. England and Italy. I’m looking forward to it if we do end up going. Did you and Rick go to Spain for a vacation or was it related to work somehow?

This semester, I am taking intro to graphic design, art history (Renaissance to Modern), intro to scientific illustration, English, and intro to printmaking. Next year, I will hopefully be taking computers for graphic designers 1, graphic design 2, creative writing, scientific illustration 1, and a mandatory lecture for designers (origins and issues in contemporary design).

I have also become involved with an independent zine. It’s called “Eat the Monster.” It began as a two person zine (Don and Matt–they are roommates), but now, I’m helping them with it. I’ve only just started helping though. The online version is at

I hope that Durham isn’t boring to you. I also hope that it’s not the same when I come back for the summer. I come back at the end of April.


–On Wed, Mar 29, 2000 11:49 AM -0500 Bibby Moore wrote:
> Hi Candy;
> I finally got to look at your web pages. What great
> and intriguing (sp?) work. I loved the “I hate consumerism”
> and the one I think called “blue ice? or blue something”. What
> do the faculty members think of your work?
> Love,
> Bibby

I regret I did not send Candy any more emails. I missed hearing more about her deep friendship for Don, her struggles at school and her rewarding social life with other good women friends and artists. I pray for her today and hope to meet her spirit again on this earth before I leave.

I love her.


Lucien Miller

I had a tiny tiny moment in Candy’s earthly life which meant a lot to me. We corresponded for a while during high school. In my mind, she the “niece”, me the “uncle.” She was setting up, editing, and writing a magazine for young creative persons like herself. I got a taste of her wonderful spirit, flying to horizons I couldn’t even see. Such imagination, grace, and beauty. How grateful I am for encountering Candy. How graced all have been. And will be–through prayer, meditation, and good deeds. Just keep the relationship, like Jing, like Candy.

I much appreciate the going forward movement of what you Jing et al are doing for Candy. In my view, mortal life parting is only that, a parting, but the relation continues and deepens. Let me share this–we Catholics have a view of “Purgatory,” meaning that our purification continues after death. We will see as we are seen. We will love as we are loved. I think of you and Candy, hand-in-hand, as Mother-and-daughter, passing through purification together, “here,” and “there”. It’s positive, and very good. I’m not saying this is the truth for you–your Buddhist view is different–but I hope it is a comfort in your agony. There is light and you do and will see it, here-now, “through a glass, darkly,” here-after, “face to face.”

Mavis Mayer

My early memories of Candy are always associated with her art – she would often bring in clever, witty drawings that she had created in her after-school classes at the Durham Arts Council. I remember being very impressed, not only with the high standard of execution of her offerings, but the advanced intellectual concepts behind them. I kept many of these drawings and reviewing them was a bitter-sweet experience.

Thinking back to the times when Candy visited my house or at other times when I was in her company, I have strong memories of a very quiet child (and, later, a quiet young woman). And yet, at the same time, I heard from friends who met her at my house that they had enjoyed long, thoughtful conversations with her. Perhaps, in talking to comparative strangers, she was able to “open up” and express herself.

My last two memories came last summer; Candy, Jing, and Gail came to APSI on August 2 to celebrate my birthday. This was an annual ritual, complete with a cake from the bakery where Candy worked in the summer. I saw Candy one more time, when I visited the bakery near the end of August; she spoke with me about my recent wrist surgery and, when I was ready to leave, she came to open the door for me and offered to carry my purchases to my car. She told me then that she had enjoyed a good summer, working on the AALL webpage and being with her Durham friends. I wished her luck on the coming semester.

Although I knew that she had returned to Durham during the fall semester, nothing could have prepared me for the shock of her death. Although I can’t join the group meeting each Tuesday to remember her, I do think about her at that time and pray for her to find peace.

Justin Life

Dear Candy,

I wish you were here today Candy. There’s so much I want to tell you. You were always the rock I could rely on. You’d always steer me on course when I lost my way. Candy, you were always looking forward full of ideas when I was worried about things in the moment. When I was feeling discouraged in my artwork I could always look to your determination for inspiration. Sitting here, I can hear you laugh and see you smile at the small things that most people pass by. Candy, remembering your talent and enthusiasm will always make me work towards valuing every day and trying to improve myself. I’ll always be thankful for the time we spent with each other. I just wish it could have been for longer. Candy, wherever you are now, I hope you found the peace you were searching for, and thank you for being there for me and being my friend.

Your friend forever



Candy’s e-mail to Justin

Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2000 19:06:11 -0500
From: Candy Wei <>
Subject: monday

hi there. i’m glad that school’s finally in session. i’m having an okay time here. i’m trying to finish an english paper on racial politics. it’s challenging because it’s such a complex issue.

i have a drawing assignment for you …after months and months of thinking…

draw an entity being born WITHOUT using the common imagery. like don’t draw a mother giving birth to her baby, and don’t draw a horse giving birth to her colt. don’t do shit like that. an entity can be anything. it can be human, but it can’t resemble one physically (it has be representational); it can be an animal; it can be a star; it can be a machine; it can be anything, but it has to be representative of that entity in some way. you can use any medium you want. i’ll expect to see it during the summer. no hurry or anything.


Justin’s drawing, in response to assignment from Candy 

George Life

The Only Constant
Candy Wei, 1980-2001


Two years after her death,
at an exhibit of her work held at Wellesley College,
I walk in quiet from piece to piece.

On entering, begin at the explanatory text,
her struggle with schizophrenia
since the first breakdown at age 15, the long months
pulled from school, the relapse
in fall 2000, and, shortly after
her recovery, her suicide.

She left behind drawings, paintings,
wood-block prints, stories, collages,
graphic design, the more recent poetry
of standing among waves
kicking broken shells.

She worked with the compulsive care
of a perfectionist; in even
the slightest erring of stroke
she would begin again with a new canvas.

She was caught between either the limitation
of medication, its blunting of the senses,
or the uncertainty of never knowing
when she would suffer the next breakdown;
white hospital walls between her and all
her yearnings for travel and where
she had been found a sense of home,
like the Sanjusangendo in Kyoto
among the 1001 gold statues of Kannon,
the Buddhist goddess of mercy, the peace
in the slight curve of smile and lowered eyes.

One painting done during her first recovery:
a silent scream, though more
one of shock and confusion, the eyes wide,
the inside of the mouth mere white.



schizo, from the Greek, meaning split.

In a small booklet, one of her last creations,
horizontally-cut pages combine
on one side, images, and on the other, words:
When a rhizome is broken, it returns
to the root and reconnects.
Charcoal sperm, heads black points,
many multiplying, moving
toward the round shadowed egg;
tail-tips hooked like curved leaves
waiting to spread and unfold.

Another piece, a series of collages
on the bardo, the Buddhist limbo
of 49 days after death before rebirth:
in the upper left corner a black and white photo
of a dark forest and in the opposite,
a few light trees, up-side down.
A staircase at the top center leads
down to the middle only to arc
back, trailing off toward the bottom.
Many copies of one figure, back
turned, hand covering face, float.

Another: what at first seems
a design of constricted seed and plant,
but at the bottom – look
closely – toes, ankle, sprouting bulk
of thigh, twisting from the pod, mouth
yearning up and out.

I keep coming back
to one painting to pass a finger along
quick bristled strokes
of circle and curve, egg and sperm,
thinking on the drawings of hers
done in childhood of solid
elephants, bears, horses. So immediate
after the first breakdown her work changed.



At the memorial service
light slants through the window
onto the mantra leaflet at my lap,
as I chant the same chant as all in the room.

On a table, circled by one hundred candles,
an urn with her ashes.
The mind makes of this
your ashes, not you’re ashes, not you are
ash. Splitting it down
to what it is, she is gone,
yet present in the portrait, the gathering
of people, her work hung everything.



May all beings be free from suffering.
May suffering leave the body.
May calamity and misfortune turn to dust.
This is the Great Perfection of Wisdom.

To recall
her high school senior quote, The only constant
is change; the email she sent my brother
in her last week, how happy she was, joking
with her boyfriend at dinner; her notes for a class
on Tibetan Buddhism written in her last hours,
A human being is just a process; the curled fetal position
in which her body was found; the 49 days
after her death that her mother spent
performing rituals for her safe passage into a new life,
bringing together her artwork in place of
any note of explanation, trying to understand
her decision, her hope to beginning again
with the clarity of a clear canvas; and when seeing
fully into the world and making
of it something full –

in these moments to believe
that freedom is present,
that the body holds no suffering,
that dust holds no calamity,
is to wish upon her peace
and make of the pieces a whole.

October 26, 2004

Allan Life

[Email to: Curriculum in Asian Studies, UNC at Chapel Hill]

As Larry Kessler announced two days ago, Candy Wei, the daughter of Jing Wang of Duke University, died last week at Ann Arbor at the age of twenty. Candy was in her sophomore year in the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design. During her time in this program she made many friends among her fellow students, and their tributes to Candy following her death were impressive. A scholarship in Candy’s honor has been established in the School of Art and Design.

In my own family, Candy’s loss has been deeply felt. Candy and my son Justin became good friends in their art classes at Jordan High. They were brought together through their mutual passion for art, and after Candy went to Ann Arbor, and Justin enrolled in the studio art program at UNC-G, they have corresponded regularly. During their holidays they saw each other frequently, giving each other examples of their art work and sharing their hopes for the future. Candy, who was an active editor and contributor to student publications at Jordan High and Ann Arbor, dreamed of becoming the art director of a magazine. That this ambition was unrealized is a loss to us all. I have never encountered anyone with more enthusiasm for the talent of others, or a greater power to inspire others in their artistic ambitions. In stressing this fact, I am not neglecting her own talent, which was conspicuous in literature as well as in visual art. But she has left with her contemporaries the kind of memories that not only endure but flourish. This makes a memorial service in her honor especially appropriate.

[excerpts of a letter to Jing Wang, 3-22-01]

The memorial website preserves and shares a great deal of what everyone present had experienced at the memorial service [at Duke] in January. Though we felt it would be an intrusion to write immediately after this occasion, or indeed during the last several weeks, I now can tell you how impressed we were by this service, which brought together several friends of mine from your Department (in Bruce’s case, in an unexpected role) and a Buddhist monk whom Justin (Life) had come to know at UNC-Greenboro. Add to this is the fact that I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Toronto, and you see why this occasion was for me, as for so many others, a focal experience, testifying to the breadth of Candy’s sympathy and understanding. In its externals, the evening walk I took after the service resembled hundreds of previous walks around my own neighborhood, but never have I beheld those surroundings in an afterglow so pervasive, beneath a young moon of such brilliance. Near the horn of that moon, a single star was radiant. I record these impressions, not to deny the pain we felt and feel at your loss, but in testimony to the intensity of the memorial tribute in January.

Carolyn Kun-shan Lee

Candy Wei was an extremely talented artist and a young woman who had a mind of her own. She has left her friends and family members reminders of her kindness, passion, and authenticity not only in memory, but also in her art works. The different stages of her writings and paintings have shown that Candy was fully involved in what was happening at the time in her life. Her compassion for the world and for humanity is self-explanatory and continues to communicate through her words and art.


Robert Laws

I met Candy at a time of crisis in her life. She had just experienced a psychotic episode. I was her therapist. There are so many adjectives to describe Candy, and I will mention a few.

She came to my office with her mother despite her fears. She talked to me. Over several years, her fears dissipated and she was able to face the challenges of young adulthood.

An honors student, Candy was unable to attend school for a while. She made her work up in record time with record honors, and returned to school.

When she was able to draw, paint, and create again, her recovery was rapid. She gave me a painting and showed photographs of her work. They are incredibly insightful and artistic.

She had many relatinships that she discussed with me. In my judgment as a therapist, I found her to be most insightful and understanding of others. I am convinced that a number of her friends’ lives are touched by her and are made better for having known her.

These are a few of the adjectives that come immediately to my mind when thinking of Candy. In my lifetime, I have never known a bettter or more deserving human being. And I will never forget her.

Nicole Johnson

It is with great honor that I write this tribute. Candy Wei was my student this past fall term in the course: Introduction to Creative Writing/English 223. Due to the intense and intimate nature of this workshop, I came to know Candy very well. She was a student with a hungry mind; a student with the rare combination of intellectual ability, emotional maturity, fresh perspective and sheer perseverance that signals great potential. Time and again, Candy took on the challenges of my course with vigor and creativity. She was an inspiration to her peers (fellow students seemed to gravitate towards her for advice and motivation) and an invaluable resource to me, as a teacher.

Candy was a luminous presence — in the classroom, on the page, in her most simple interactions. The minute she walked into my workshop, the intensity and energy of the space shot up. It is because of students like Candy, that I teach. She will always be with me as inspiration, and most importantly, as a fellow writer — a partner in poetry.

Wes Hurt

I knew Candy through ASL (art student’s league). She was a friend of myself and of my girlfriend, Katy Glazer. We entered into the first ASL show together a couple of years ago. I don’t know if she entered into the second show or not. The first ASL show was called Incoming, and happened across from the School of Art and Design in the Peirpont Commons Lounge. It was a small show with about 30 pieces and about half the number of participants. It had a variety of work; I entered a sculpture as well as a few paintings. Others entered drawings, prints, and photography work. Candy entered a couple of pieces of her photography work. One was called “Insomnia” and the other was “Untitled” As we were getting ready for the show, I remember trying to design the space with her, and we could never come to an agreement over what pediments and pieces should go where. Instead of fretting about it, we just said oh well, it looks good enough for now. I was not able to join the ASL again this year because I found myself very busy, but I remember passing Candy in the hall and saying “hello” every now and then. Getting the news made me very upset and I felt that drawing a portrait for the ones that she loved would be like saying my last goodbye. I drew the portrait from a memorial poster that AIGA president Chip Cullen had put up in the art school. Today, there is a great memory board up, where people have filled with drawings, poetry, origami, photos, etc. Every once in a while, I stop by to read and see new things that have been added. She is dearly missed by the art school and holds a special place in my heart.

Hitomi Endo

I first met Candy when she was ten. Different images of her face appear each time I think about her – the face of her I saw the last time before Christmas, of her in her younger days with long hair, and of her in recent years, always with a quiet smile. She is so alive in my memories. Her artwork touched my heart many times. I am grateful to her for leaving the artwork and writings. They are precious gifts from Candy to all of us.

Buddhist Community Response

Geshe Gelek Conducts Prayer Service
by Ben White

On Sunday January 28 at 2:30 pm, the Venerable Geshe Gelek Chodak initiated a prayer service in memory of Candy Wei at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life on the campus of Duke University. The memorial service was attended by approximately 170 people, including Kadampa Center members Stephanie Smith, Hong Pei, and Sherab Lama. This was the first Tibetan Buddhist prayer service for most of those present and many of them commented on how deeply moving it was for them. Candy’s mother, Jing Wang, Chair of the Department of Asian and African Languages and Literature and Director of the Center for East Asian Cultural and Institutional Studies at Duke, is Tibetan Buddhist and Candy had been brought up in a Buddhist household.

Candy committed suicide Tuesday January 16 in her dorm room at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor between 2:30 and 3:00 pm by placing a plastic bag over her head. She died in the lion position on the floor of her room after attending class on Tibetan Buddhism less than two hours earlier. Her class notes cover the bardo, impermanence, no self, time of death is indefinite, death is definite, practice of the Dharma is the only thing that helps during death, the statement “a human being is just a process”, the order in which the aggregates dissolve, and end with a star by the last line “mental consciousness”. Candy’s roommate told us that when she found her, her posture was relaxed and natural, as though gently sleeping. She had not taken an overdose of any drug.

Jing and I flew to Ann Arbor the next morning in a state of shock, with The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche for guidance. We contacted Donald Lopez, an old colleague of Jing’s whose daughter played with Candy when they were children, through the University and asked for a Tibetan Buddhist monk for a phowa in Candy’s dorm room. He brought Gareth Sparham with him and they performed the ritual together.

On Friday the 19th, Gareth initiated a prayer service for Candy at the funeral home in Ann Arbor which was attended by Jing, Candy’s boyfriend Don DeSander, Candy’s father, her uncle and aunts, and a few of her closest friends. Her body was cremated after the prayer service. Jing, Don, and I initiated a visualization exercise in her dorm room at the moment the cremation started to try and help her transition. That evening, at the Student Union, friends shared their memories of Candy. Don had put together an exhibition of her art work and Jing announced the establishment of a scholarship fund in her memory in the School of Art and Design for international travel.

Valle Jones was an ocean of comfort while we were in Ann Arbor and after our return, available at any time to listen and console, guide and reassure, working with Geshe-la and Sherab-la to prepare for the prayer service in Durham. She asked for information so prayers for Candy could be initiated at the Kadampa Center right away and followed through with loving kindness and support. Even when unexpectedly called out of town, she kept in touch through email. In the Monday night class at the Kadampa Center the day before Candy’s death, Valle covered the nine-point death awareness meditation and “All conditioned phenomena are impermanent”. This was an amazing parallel to Candy’s last class and an unexpected preparation for her departure.

Candy was a brilliant artist, gifted writer, and loving friend. She had completed a highly successful first year at the University of Michigan, seemed to have a strong sense of self-confidence, and was excited about returning for her sophomore year. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, she had to drop out of school because of a re-occurrence of psychosis after a five-year break. She responded well to outpatient therapy and wanted to return to school. She apparently felt that anti-psychotic medication would be necessary in order to function but that it impaired her artistic abilities, and did not want to live with that limitation. Her decision was unexpected. Candy’s latest work exhibited amazing imagery of rebirth, which now seems quite clear. Geshe-la commented on the bardo content of her drawings and her unusual awareness. Her work can be seen at

Geshe-la and Sherab-la have been sources of boundless compassion in helping Jing and myself deal with the pain, focus our minds on what we can do to help Candy, and plan for prayer services at Sera Je Monastery and at the Kadampa Center on March 6, the 49th day. Jing asked me to thank everyone on her behalf for their prayers and feel they have helped Candy so very much. Candy attended a Monday class at Kadampa Center last year. Donald Lopez asked me to express his regards to Don Brown, Robbie Watkins, and Valle Jones. Gareth Sparham asked about the Kadampa Center and wanted to know if it had relocated yet. The Sangha is strong and deep, alive and well.

Katy Bernheim

I taught art to Candy on Tuesday afternoons for several years, from when she was in middle school into high school, until I moved to California in 1997. From the beginning, I wondered who was teaching whom. Candy always had a very clear idea of what she wanted to create. No matter if it was a craft project like marblizing paper or a complex painting, she maintained a clear vision of the finished work. She was meticulous as well, carefully crafting a line in a still life or reproducing a wallpaper pattern in a painting. I was keenly aware of how she approached her work, since it was so different from the way I did. She followed her own visual script, carefully filling out each section of the painting or drawing, occasionally going back to work on an area that she felt did not work. When she worked on a painting over the course of several weeks, we would talk about how to get a certain effect or make an area stronger to convey the feeling or idea Candy wanted to express, not how to make that limb be more realistic, or fix the drawing. She knew how the image should be. There were times when I was frustrated by my lack of experience in painting – Candy should be painting in oils, she should have a world of technique at her fingertips to fully express her artistic vision.

Candy had vision. She would speak of frustrations at school, how the classes were not particularly challenging, how some teachers didn’t seem particularly intelligent and treated the students like idiots. How the behavior of other students baffled her, at their lack of awareness and their lack of creativity. Candy said she felt like she was in a different league, and an outsider. Luckily, she clearly felt the need to give voice to her vision of her world. The ‘zine she single-handedly put together seemed to address her response to her school environment and outside world. Her paintings, though, spoke to much more complex ideas about her identity, her feelings about her mother and her own autonomy. I once tried to talk to Candy about a piece she did of Jing. In the painting, Jing is bald and her mouth is open. There is something in her mouth, an egg, something convex. Jing seems to be surprised, frustrated, trying to expel this barrier. To me, the painting expressed anger , Candy’s desire to mute her mother’s voice. There was also an element of vulnerability, Jing unveiled or exposed. But Candy did not want to talk about the painting. She was unwilling or unable to articulate the complexity of emotion she expressed in the work. Yet she continued to produce paintings, drawings, poems that belied a deep emotion and sensitivity. She HAD to create. As long as I knew Candy, she was compelled to filter her feelings and her visions through Art.

I have thought of Candy frequently over these past several years. Here in San Francisco I catch a glimpse of a young Chinese American woman who glances down, tucks her hair behind her ear and I am surprised when it is not Candy. As I delve deeper into painting I think of Candy’s early work and her desire to express emotion grounded in “realistic” representation. I think of the dialogues we could have had, and I regret I did not have these conversations sooner. I am heartbroken to lose Candy. I am heartbroken that the world has lost Candy, too. I hope that in her next life she can fully realize her extraordinary creativity and sensitivity. The world would be a better place because of it. She certainly made my world a better place.

Dr. Joan Bartholomew

My clearest image of Rong-Rong is that of a cheerful, warm baby who was so delighted by her mother’s music – you were playing a Chinese musical instrument at that party you gave to your Chinese class. She had just learned to walk and she has joyfully bouncing up and down to the rhythm. She was probably just a little older than my daughters are now. And I look at my girls and I wonder how is it possible to ever measure a parent’s grief? I will always keep that image of baby Rong-Rong in my heart.

AIGA letter to Michigan Daily

To the Daily:
As members of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, of which Candy Wei was a member, we are deeply saddened by her unexpected death. Candy was an active contributor to our group and the Art School community as a whole. Her artwork, talent and especially her great personality will be missed.

But more importantly, we’ll miss our friend.

As a group, we would like to extend our condolences to her family, her friends and anyone who is feeling her loss.

Candy, you will be greatly missed.

Members of the AIGA
University of Michigan chapter
1-22-2001, page 4A