To Masami Koshikawa, art is about more than beauty. It's what has helped her survive.
An international student from Japan, Koshikawa said she's lucky to be alive. Her 35 years on this Earth have been one long, difficult journey.
Art, however, gave her an outlet to communicate her background and struggles.
She will graduate from UCF this spring with a master's degree in emerging media.
But that trip across the graduation stage will represent thousands of miles with a story that traces back to her grandmother, a Japanese orphan left in China after the atomic bombings.
After the bombings, the Japanese who were within Chinese territory had to leave. While many were killed, three of Koshikawa's 10 family members survived, though they were homeless.
"I don't know how they died, by suicide or if they got killed. A lot of people got killed by Chinese. My great grandmother, my grandmother and her little brother survived by running from city to city and finally passed out somewhere in the street," Koshikawa said.
She said a man who was compassionate enough to care for them for several months took them in. His fiancée left him while he was taking care of them because he spent all his savings, which was to go toward their wedding.
Koshikawa's great grandmother offered her daughter (Koshikawa's grandmother) as a bride to the man as a gesture of gratitude for saving their lives. Her grandmother was 17 at the time.
Koshikawa's own story begins in China, where she was born in 1980 under a regime with a one-child policy. And that one child had better be a boy.
"The doctors told her I was a boy. She didn't know I was a girl until after birth. They said my family had to pay a penalty and was extremely discriminated against because they had a second daughter in the family. That's one of the reasons they moved to Japan. We considered ourselves Japanese now," Koshikawa said.
The last time she saw her family was when her son was born — now he is 4 years old.
Koshikawa was awarded a scholarship through the Florida-Japan Linkage Institute, which helped pay for her tuition.
At first, she was going to Miami-Dade College to receive her associate's. It was there that she learned about UCF. When looking at other schools and what they would offer for her scholarship, she found UCF to be the most affordable.
"I love being involved in school and meeting new people. I had no clue what my identity was, my placement in society," Koshikawa said. "I'm learning a lot about myself and where I come from. This is my calling. This is my world. I want to be involved in this culture, the art culture."
With her art, Koshikawa hopes to be the bridge between the East and West, and communicate the struggles and similarities that all people face.
Starting next Thursday, Koshikawa will be performing for the first time at Nude Nite in Orlando, a showcase of live, mostly nude, performances.
Her piece is called "Showered in Kisses," which she will be performing for two hours per day in the weekend-long event.
Koshikawa's friend Paul Finch, a 2013 graduate, is one of the artists collaborating with her for Nude Nite. During her performance, she will be painted white, and numerous kisses by a partner wearing lipstick will turn her red.
"Her art has changed a lot. It is still based in figurative images. Her work frequently relates to her son and family experience," Finch said.
Her portfolio is extensive and includes pieces such as "Marry Me." In this piece she's wearing Japanese makeup, a Chinese red veil and Western wedding dress holding a sign that reads "will you marry me" in Chinese, Japanese and English.
This piece was meant to place a spotlight on the stereotype that foreign people will marry an American just for a Green Card.
A person who can relate to Koshikawa's story is her mentor Yulia Tikhonova, the new director of UCF's Art Gallery.
Tikhonova is from Russia and spoke of the issues some face as immigrants.
"We are trying to find or make a new identity here," Tikhonova said. "I find Masami being very serious about her work. Masami has been very dedicated. Her subject matter is her background. All her work reflects on her multicultural background and how she finds herself. She doesn't need to go into the big world [to find a subject matter], she reflects on herself."
Tikhonova said Koshikawa's mother's Japanese origami butterflies are constantly present throughout her work.
Koshikawa's thesis show will be on March 5 in the Visual Arts building.
"My hope is that I can create a bridge between cultural differences through art," Koshikawa said. "And I'm hoping I could provide opportunities for artists to do Japanese art and exhibitions here, because we don't know what other culture is about unless we see it or experience it."
Veronica Brezina is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.