The way they look

Radiator Theatre – Ina Jang

Korean born artist Ina Jang now currently based in New York turns amazing colourful photo collages into paintings. Her latest work Radiator Theatre uses abstract shapes and distinctive colour palettes in the resemblance of female figures: round bodies, ribbons, masks, legs, and heels.

How the work came to life, she mentioned, “for Radiator Theatre, I encouraged myself to let go of my usual processes. Back then, I was exploring photography as a way of documenting what’s around me – I liked its immediacy and directness. I started sketching ideas, and suddenly, it wasn’t enough only to photograph objects as I found them. To create the Radiator Theatre images, I made temporary, painted three-dimensional structures. The project is devoted to the relationship with one’s mother-tongue and our encounters with foreign languages.”

© Ina Jang, from the series ‘Radiator Theatre’ ; Source @ Unseen / Trendland

The work was created from a small set made by the artist on top of the radiator in her modest apartment in New York. Each of the abstract figures is imperfectly hand-cut, hand-coloured, and suggest narratives of their own. They would float listlessly against the background, if not for the shadows created by the sun that shines through the apartment’s window. Their dark shadows root the figures to the ground, creating a sense of space and a new language for relationships between moments in the photographs.

The way they look

Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness – Zanele Muholi


First I was drawn to the cover of this book – a powerful and hopeful portrait of a black woman. Immediately I was touched and wanted to learn more about the work. After doing some research, I learned that this book is about self-portraits of  Zanele Muholi, a South African photographer, portraying different personas, using her body to confront the politics of race and representation, questioning the way the black body is shown and perceived.

These images were produced over 3 years, and she took a self-portrait every day to send a message that “we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear.” She calls herself a “Visual Activist” rather than a photographer or an artist as she believes that photography shouldn’t just be about fine art, but also in speaking for the unjust. Her three important facets of identity: woman, African, queer, brought her to not only use images to speak for them, but to discover within herself the different sides of her identity. She said, “all these images are me, they are different parts of me. I’m not mimicking black. it is my skin, and the experience of being black is deeply entrenched in me.”

Now this piece of work isn’t something you can just unravel like that, there are layers of meaning within each photo. Materials used in each photograph are symbolism or representations of something cultural or political or history of African. For example, an image of her with plastics wrapped all around her head. These plastics are used to wrapped around luggages to cross boarders, and often it’s because of their race that they get to be asked funny questions and get stopped at the customs. The feeling of this made her feels like trash, which is metaphored by the plastic that covers the suitcases used in the image.

It is important to study each photo carefully to decipher the message that Muholi wants to portray. Each element she adds to the image has a specific representation, even the way of her gaze, is it confrontational or is it a matter of questioning the audience?

I would love to get a hands-on to read this book. Her work not only taught me about the African culture and politics behind, but also about symbolism in art and semiotics of photography which I was not really aware of or familiar with. Nothing beats reading the images on paper and feeling and smelling the photographs.


The way they look

Bees and The Unbearable – Chen Zhe

Someone shared this book with me earlier this week and I was immediately drawn to the handcraft of the book and the powerful image of the arm. The work can be seen as two separate work.

THE BEARABLE is about how the artist photographs her self injuries. And this collection of “trash” she calls it came to become a body of work after she had to present her self-portraits at a class in University. While this work is about herself, THE BEES is about finding others who are going through similar experiences and her relationship and exchanges with them. These two woven together to become this book with tender, sensual and powerful book.

She said in an interview, “I had a hard time with all the attention, good and bad. Some suggested that I spoke for the people who cannot speak for themselves. That was not my intention. Other media said presented self-harm as a brave thing, which simply made me angry.”

In her point of view, art helps us ask difficult questions about ourselves. And in this work, Chen is glad that she had the opportunity to share these questions with others e.g. How does a fascination come to be? What does it feel like? And how bad is it if the fascination is a dark one? She said, “Why would a poet publish a poem after he wrote it? He can just be satisfied with having written it and then put it in a drawer. But what often happens is that he would read it out. He wants it to resonate with people, even though he must be embarrassed to admit it.”

And then there, her work has a deeper impact on me. Not just the book (which I am awaiting for its arrival), but these questions she imposed. Can what artists want to portray through their work always be understood by readers? And is it important to be able to read what the artist wants to say through their work? Or can art be about having our own interpretation? How does an art become an art? Do artists always want to publish art because they want their work to be resonated?

What is my fascination? How does it come to my attention? Is it bad to have evil thoughts? And is it bad to make these thoughts into art and publish them?

On some level, I do resonate with Chen’s work. And maybe that’s why I like her work.