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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Nina Kuo

New York,
USA

Nina Kuo, the daughter of abstract painter James Kuo, was born in the Midwest and attended the State University of New York at Buffalo. She attended workshops in college with Judy Chicago and showed with Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman, pioneers of Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. Kuo has curated and lectured in Asian-American Arts Centers as well as in Asia, and has participated in exhibitions with avant-garde artists such as Ai Wei Wei, Zhang Hongtu and Tehching Hsieh. Notably, Kuo has also exhibited with feminist scholars and curators Lucy Lippard and Marcia Tucker.

Kuo works in various media, including painting, mixed media, photography and video. Her figures and landscapes represent the views of an Asian scholar and artist living in the West for its opportunities, but looking to the East for its spirituality. Working intermittently in Asia has encouraged her to research the ongoing evolution of Asian cultures and has given her access to translated icons hidden in her own works, taking her art to a new emotional level.

Feminist Artist Statement

My feminist persona is influenced in large part by my experiences in the reopened mainland China. I worked in China in 1980, lectured at Beijing University with China News Service and, in 1993, produced a body of photographs with the sponsorship of Arts International. Participating in exhibitions exploring Asian identity at Bard College, the Newark Museum of Art and at various art fairs has brought my Chinese feminist work to public attention.

Currently, I am working on projects using feminine imagery to explore connections between the past and the present—such as hand-drawn doilies and sewn Chi Pao photo dresses—as well as on mural landscapes with surreal figures and calligraphic shapes. To me, these images provide metaphors for contemporary society and its many cultural directions. Computers, make-up rituals, fantasy hairdos and fast foods provide tools to convey the satirical relationships of my female figures to society. For example, in one of my works, a Ch’ing-style mountainscape, fried noodles spell out surreal calligraphic forms as ladies gather for a cosmetics party, surrounded by popular iconography.

My “Mythical Muse” series depicts illusion, feminine irony and transformations of Asian influences. They are anachronistic images of global cultures that fuse history with contemporary wit and drama. Each feminine scholar figure is juxtaposed with contemporary rituals, such as shopping for jewelry or designer labels. Research into early Tang and Ch’ing dynasty subjects reveal a sense of female rebellion and independence that I believe connects to currents in contemporary society. My historical figures, such as scholars and concubines, use recognizable modern props to convey information from East to West with a hi-tech attitude.

<p>Tang Lady Chanel Bag</p>

Tang Lady Chanel Bag

Part of the “Chanel Chinoiserie” series, this painting shows the preciousness and glitz that women are sometimes associated with, while revealing that some ladies cheat in attaining that image by purchasing knock off designer copies. A contemporary Tang Scholarly Lady wears Chanel knock-offs and buys Chanel perfumes to demonstrate the convergence of different values placed upon women. This work was included in an essay by Eleanor Heartey.

Tang Lady Chanel Bag

Part of the “Chanel Chinoiserie” series, this painting shows the preciousness and glitz that women are sometimes associated with, while revealing that some ladies cheat in attaining that image by purchasing knock off designer copies. A contemporary Tang Scholarly Lady wears Chanel knock-offs and buys Chanel perfumes to demonstrate the convergence of different values placed upon women. This work was included in an essay by Eleanor Heartey.

3 Silver Dancing Diamond Girls

3 Silver Dancing Diamond Girls presents a composition of contemporary figures with glittering diamonds, as seen in ads for jewels and precious gems. Women today are often shown that they should covet such rewards, to be associated with success and feminine allure.

Yoga Retreat- Barbell Mountain

These Asian ladies seek refuge in a Zen-like retreat as they perform yoga to reach an ideal spiritual world. They cleanse themselves as they build up their bodies and minds in order to survive everyday stresses and challenges. The mountains and nature provide the ideal escape for modern yoga rituals and therapy.

This work was reviewed by Jonathan Goodman for Art in America in October 2007. This series is in the collection of Gallery 2x13, Asian Art Works, host of the Asian Contemporary Art Fair, NYC.

Night Bamboo

This enchanted night scene of Tang ladies-in-waiting highlights the stark side of an updated Fu Bao Shi classic painting. The Chinese figures are ghostly in a contained landscape and invite the viewer to sit on a scholar’s rock with them. The mysterious bamboo forest at night is a subject for one of the artist’s video pieces, as well.

Victorian Plum Blossom Concubine

Reminiscent of John Thompson’s 19th-century photo of an elegant concubine with bound feet, this piece is a tribute to these figures as a classical, symmetrically-designed composition in an oval frame. The figures are both traditional and modernized. Kuo has used this theme of middle-class Chinese women subjects with “lotus bound feet” in past works, notably by portraying her grandmother, who had bound feet and who lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution. See photograph in Our Grandmothers, published by Tabori, Stewart & Chang.

Clay Lady Astronauts

The Plexiglas helmets worn by these painted terracotta figures reveal that their traditional poses are reminiscent of futuristic poses, as well. In the present, women can be astronauts, too. These two figures are part of a stop-action video with abstract forest landscapes and pastoral scenes. The video’s fantastical drama is enhanced by the Asian instrumentation and theatrical effect of the moving figures with their expressive facial features in close-ups, group wide-angle shots and montages to arouse interest in these animated scholarly ladies-in-waiting. The figures are modeled on early puppets or opera actors, but demonstrate the pervasiveness of everyday commercialism as they wield cell phones, rifles, boom boxes and guitars.

The musical score was composed by L. Roser, a Chinese American multimedia artist, whose Asian-inspired compositions make use of Chinese, Japanese and Indian instrumentation. Further, Roser combines natural ambient sounds—such as sand, water, wind and footsteps—with high-tech urban echoes of cell phones, computers, bicycles and crowds.

The first video sequence of the work explores Chinese Xian caves from where Tang lady figures of the 8th through 11th centuries were excavated. Tang dancers sing into cell phones against a yellow earth drip painting background, providing a metaphor for the intensity and rituals of contemporary life. In the second sequence, glass helmets are added to give these figures a warrior or astronaut persona. These transformed figures represent a cosmic visionary future. The three video sequences are autobiographical since Kuo, as a Chinese American artist, has also awoken from a trance to find new cultural and technological advances juxtaposed with traditional lifestyles. The piece premiered at Flushing Town Hall in 2006.

Tang Lady Housewife - Architectonic (collaboration with L. Roser)

This 3-D video still montage was taken from “Tang Dynasty Housewife,” a collaboration with L. Roser, an accomplished animator, architect and composer. In the video, the pressures of industrialization are conquered by the Tang dynasty housewife in a post- futurist dreamscape. The subject of Tang ladies in contemporary or futuristic settings appears frequently in Kuo’s paintings, sculpture, 3-D animations and stop action videos. One of the video stills from this work appears in Envisioning Diaspora: Asian American Artist Collectives, by Alexandra Chang (Timezone 8 Editions, 2008).

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