You Were Bigger Than the Sky, You Were More Than Just A Short Time
Artists: Sally J Han, Nam Kim, Sahana Ramakrishnan, Ming Wang, Caroline Wong, Justin Yoon and Rachel Youn Curated by Ashik and Koshik Zaman Belenius, Stockholm, Sweden March 16 - April 15, 2023
Sally J Han, Last Night's Dream (2022) “Sometimes you have to see it, to be it”. These words by the British curator Karen Alexander have stuck and resonated with me ever since she said them on stage as a panelist in a talk in Stockholm that I once organized. The gist of the words, which might be harder to relate to if you are used to seeing the spitting image of yourself in every domain of society, is that to believe that your pursuit for a position can be successful you need to see a member of your “community” in that very place already before you, to inspire the thought. It’s film award season as this text is being written and I’m reading interviews with the Vietnamese American actor Ke Hey Quan who struck success as a child in Steven Spielberg’s iconic Indiana Jones franchise, only later to just wait in his teens for the phone to call but to no avail. No roles. Michelle Yeoh, too in the award race, offers similar accounts of exclusion, mentioning how much things changed only recently. Once they do, it’s easy to forget how much but it’s been no different in art.
Cyclical as things are in this art world, I remember a very recent time when abstract painters, mostly white men, were all the rage, and galleries appeared to look for a Dash Snow type of figure for their roster. Along those lines, in a recent interview for our C-print magazine, the fast-rising painter Skyler Chen was remembering how figurative painting was still rejected by the art world as he was starting out. Figurative painting, as any major art fair or survey of blue-chip art galleries will have you know now, has been having such a resurgence since the second part of the 2010’s but this time also significantly and visibly paving way for non-white and diasporic painters on a grander scale. This has been rebutting the historical dominance of the “whiteness” in figurative painting and impacts which bodies we are now seeing in very mundane scenes or situations of community, romance, lust, camaraderie, and reverie or coming of age in painting.
The series we are exhibiting by the youngest artist in the exhibition, Ming Wang (Journey to the West) is symptomatic for the endearing humor and altogether air of fun we are hoping for with this exhibition. In the series that reek of Wild Wild West she gives the quintessentially Western and pop cultural Americana character of Barbie an update to have features closer to her own, having been impressionable to her growing up in China and the skewed condition at hand back then of Made in China, (also) for China but not with China.
A note about the exhibition title; it’s a line from the recent Taylor Swift album and humorously here says something about the persisting momentum of figurative painting and the notion of claiming space. In our 10th anniversary year with C-print it connects back also to the title of our first curated exhibition; Yesterday We Wanted to be the Sky. We came into art entirely from the outside, built a name and a chair and added it to the table, with no intentions of leaving. And I suppose by now, by being here, we’ve been a contributing factor to the face of our local art scene gradually changing.