True to Themselves
Two alumni share how their respective cultures and Stony Brook have helped shape their journeys.
By Kristen Brennan
Expanding Her Narrative
Every piece of art tells a story, and Brooklyn-based artist Krystyna Printup ’09 has a powerful narrative to share.
As a member of the Tuscarora Turtle Clan of New York, Printup’s artwork looks deep into her own identity as an Indigenous woman, while celebrating the rich cultural history of her ancestors. Her current series of paintings, titled “Seeing Red,” recreates portraits of Native Americans taken by white settlers in the 19th century, with the intention of reclaiming the narrative.
“Through my paintings, these portraits are reimagined, colorized and brought back to life through a Native lens,” said Printup. “This, in trying to ‘give back the soul’ that was once captured and stolen by the colonial camera.”
For the 2019 SBU Alumni Association 40 Under Forty honoree, starting a dialogue has always been an important element of her work – and her last project did so on a large scale. Through an immersive installation in Times Square, Printup reimagined the Iroquois story of creation through a 3D painting entitled “Turtle Island.” (Turtle Island is an Indigenous term for North America). Visitors could walk into the painting to be photographed posing as Sky Woman, a central character of the myth, creating a unique sense of awareness and appreciation for the culture.
“I want my work to be the reminder that we, Indigenous peoples, are not extinct and very much alive.”
In addition to her work as an artist, Printup serves as a teaching artist for The Brooklyn School for Social Justice, a public school in Brooklyn, NY devoted to helping students work together for a more just tomorrow. As a teacher, understanding her own roots has helped her to connect with her students.
“Many of my students are not native to New York City or America, yet all hold an Indigenous connection to their country and home,” said Printup. “I love using my storytelling abilities to help students feel comfortable to share their tradition and their histories within their artmaking and creative exploration.”
And the alumna has gone far beyond to ensure her students have an outlet to express themselves. Through the creation of an after-school music program, Printup has created a safe space where her “alternative” or “artsy” students can feel confident in expressing themselves as individuals.
When it comes to her own success as a storyteller, however, Printup credits her time at Stony Brook, where she earned her Masters in Liberal Studies. As a student, she was equally fascinated with the presentation of the course materials as she was with the subject matter.
The works below include paintings from Printup’s “Seeing Red” series as well as her “Homeland” series, a collection of portrait and landscape paintings presented as a visual memoir paying homage to her American Indian heritage.
One science fiction course was particularly inspirational for her, in large part because of the narrative created by the professor.
“I realized much of what was being taught was really impactful in the way it was being presented. As an artist, like being a professor, it’s about presenting your work so that your message can be clearly understood,” said Printup. “Stony Brook gave me the continued growth I needed in learning how to facilitate a space that allows for storytelling.”
This year, Printup plans to continue to put these skills to use to expand the narrative of Indigenous artists by creating a publishing house that will feature and promote their works on paper.
To learn more about Krystyna Printup and follow her work, visit www.krystynaprintup.com/.
Antonio Xu Liu ’17 is a dreamer in every sense of the word.
As a first generation college graduate and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient who came to the United States from Venezuela, Xu Liu has always understood the importance of working hard to achieve his goals. And while his aspirations may have evolved over time, he always knew one thing – he wanted to become an impactful leader. Looking at the alumnus’ achievements thus far, it’s clear he’s done just that.
After graduating from Stony Brook with a degree in engineering, Xu Liu began his career at National Grid as part of the Engineer Pipeline Internship Program. Since then, he has continued to grow his role at the international utility company, receiving four promotions in under five years. His latest promotion, however, has meant a little more.
In June 2021, Xu Liu was named the Global Manager of Special Projects for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Although he’s been in the role for less than a year, the alumnus had started making an impact on the company’s culture years before with National Grid’s Pride USA Employee Resource Group. As a former chair, he helped to lead the company’s efforts as a sponsor for World Pride in New York City in 2019. That year, more 200 employees marched in solidarity. For one co-worker, it meant finally feeling comfortable enough to bring their same-sex partner to a work event.
“It’s easy to forget the impact that your work can have on an individual,” said Xu Liu. “At the end of the day, we’re helping people, which is the most important thing for me.”
His work has not gone unnoticed. In 2021, Xu Liu was named as one of the EMpower Top 100 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders for his DEI efforts. During his tenure as chair, Xu Liu increased LGBTQ+ and minority board member representation of the Pride ERG by 112 percent, while also introducing intersectionality training for employees at National Grid. Through the introduction of these resources, Xu Liu is educating his colleagues about allyship for the LGBTQ+ and minority communities.
And while his career may have taken a turn from engineering, his experiences at Stony Brook have been instrumental in leading him down the path he’s on today. Beyond the team projects that taught him project management skills, Xu Liu learned invaluable lessons about himself at SBU. He found that campus leaders were not only interested in hearing his perspective as a DACA recipient, but would actually go the extra mile to have his voice heard by others. From joining student affairs leaders to speak to county legislators, to attending the Stars of Stony Brook Gala as a student scholar, Xu Liu always felt heard.
“There were people at Stony Brook who would listen to me for who I was and not just stop there. They went further by creating actionable ways for me to be my most authentic self,” said Xu Liu. “Because of those experiences early on, wherever I am — whether at work or outside of work, I constantly have the courage to reach out to leaders of all levels to introduce myself and share my experience and ideas.”
Kristen Brennan is the senior alumni digital engagement coordinator