As a British-Malaysian female artist, I’m primarily concerned with reworking classical and contemporary images of East Asian women: from the delicate gongbi paintings of ‘virtuous women’ to the kitsch 1930s calendar posters of the ‘modern woman’; from tasteful imitations of the classical western nude to the many exoticised depictions across fine art and mainstream culture today. I am essentially adding my own voice, my own gaze, my own perspective to an age-old tradition in East Asian art that has often presented female beauty as a type and defined beauty in terms of weakness, quietness, and humility. As celebrations of non-conformity, personal autonomy, and creativity, my mostly life-size portraits depict women who, in their own way, have carved out their own identity and rejected prescribed ideals of femininity. I incorporate vibrant, almost gaudy colours in place of an often earthy, muted palette, more painterly, varied marks as opposed to restrained lines and uniform blocks of colour, and confident, bold poses to counter the often fetishised evocations of subservience.
Having grown up in London it is natural for me to reference and draw inspiration from Western traditions in art: the decadence and sensuality of Klimt and Zuloaga, the candid expressionism of Alice Neel and Susanne du Toit, not to mention the powerful feminist-driven paintings of my mentors, Roxana Halls and Sadie Lee. But this project is also fuelled by a fascination with the pictorial language of East Asian art and how I can rework elements of this into my own images: the visibility of paper and its interaction with the medium, the use of the graphic line, the horizontal format of narrative scroll paintings, not to mention the more lush and expressionistic applications of paint as seen in the works of contemporary artists Wang Yuping, Shen Ling, and Liu Xiaodong. This hybrid of artistic influences is therefore a representation of both my own connectedness with and disconnectedness from the cultures I grew up with.
While my work is to a large extent a protest against the persisting stereotypes and misconceptions about East Asian women, as well as the lack or invisibility of Asian women artists especially within figurative art, I mainly consider this project to be a therapeutic process: a chance for me to connect with and be inspired by other women who like me straddle two different cultures, but also a way of channeling the parts of my character that have, for many years, been repressed.
All works © Caroline Wong. All rights reserved.