This month, ICAI celebrates and highlights Mao (Kun) Chen and her art. Mao is a Chinese visual artist based in Calgary. She works in various mediums, such as painting, ceramics, and installation exploring themes of socio-cultural identity, female representation and free expression associated with growing up in a male-dominated society.
Tell us a little about your artistic background and journey?
I'm a Chinese artist based in Calgary, CA. My main mediums are painting and ceramics. Mao works in various mediums, such as painting, ceramics, and installation exploring themes of socio-cultural identity, female representation and free expression associated with growing up in a male-dominated society.
I'm very interested in my heritage and very much appreciate traditional Chinese art and aesthetics, but I received my artistic training in Canada. Aesthetically, my style was strongly influenced by the schooling I had here in Canada. In China, I started as a major in Horticulture and I studied science when I was a first-year university student in China. I transferred my major when I moved to Canada and studied at the University of Alberta in my third year where I earned my Bachelor of Fine art. Painting is what I specialized in during my undergraduate and graduate studies. I developed my style during my time in Canada and I extended the aesthetic ideas most recently in my ceramic work. Conceptually, living in Canada provides me with a different perspective to examine my identity and talk about my experience through art.
The journey is ok, but it is a bit difficult to get your voice out as an immigrant due to different cultural backgrounds and different perspectives. I'm looking for more opportunities to showcase my work and introduce people to my culture and share different aesthetics.
I know ICAI through Instagram. I was very surprised and happy to see there is a community that helps minorities by showing their voice. I think it is a great help and support for me as well. I see more opportunities and more belonging. ICAI provides open calls and other resources to help immigrant artists. It is great to support newcomers to showcase their work. It also helps me get solo show opportunities and I highly appreciate that.
Can you tell us what inspires you to create your works?
I'm very interested in traditional Chinese culture, manga and animation culture and 19th century to contemporary art.
What are the challenges you are currently facing as an immigrant / newcomer artist?
As I said, it is a bit difficult to get the voice out as immigrants due to different cultural backgrounds and different perspectives. My recent work is about female empowerment through the culture of kawaii. Outsiders believe that Asian are cute and infantile ourselves because we want to appear to man, which is not the truth. Kawaii (cute) originally is a female constructed aesthetic to go against traditional femininity that is designed by the male gaze. What kawaii females celebrate is a non-gender representation by adapting prepubescent aesthetics and features.
What are the goals you are hoping to achieve in the next few months through your arts?
I will be doing a ceramic residency at Medalta, I'm keeping applying for shows and residency. I don't have certain goals for the next few months, but I will try my best to develop my art and art career.