Amanda Ba I don’t think that art is here for sterilization anymore.
By Mary Truong October 28th, 2020
When a viewer looks at one of Amanda Ba’s paintings, the artist hopes that she can “pique the same type of interest that you get when you’re not supposed to be looking at something, but you can’t stop... like porn.” It’s like pressing your hands against your eyes only to peek through the gaps in your fingers— wanting your gaze to sneak past the imposed boundaries that Ba’s paintings so blatantly acknowledge. She paints large, multi-figural scenes with “distorted and kind of eccentric looking” characters that often exceed life-size. An undercurrent of tension runs through the figures’ interactions: a couple selling pig parts with a knife separating them, people hunched over as they concentrate on a game of xiangqi, dogs surrounding the body of a naked woman. This tension is exacerbated by Ba’s “claustrophobic” usage of space: she says, “I like when the figures themselves feel very sculptural and kind of crammed into the space... Sometimes I have figures whose arch of their back is parallel with the edge of the canvas, and I like that feeling of claustrophobia.” Sometimes, Ba’s characters seem to break from their confined space by directing confrontational gazes to the viewer.
“How comfortable are you with the boundary between intimacy and sexuality?”
Transgressing social boundaries by investigating the relationships humans have with animals is a recent theme that Ba has been exploring through her art. Several critical theorists influence her ideas: she cites Mel Chen’s animism and how our consideration of human/non-human and being/non-being is more slippery than we imagine; Donna Haraway’s The Companionship Series Manifesto and how the relationship between humans and dogs has changed both sides in an irrevocable manner; and Ien Ang’s idea of hybridity and how it examines the experience of diasporic children as something distinct from half one culture/half another as specific influences. Although each theorist has specificity in their realm, each poses questions to the ways we constrain experience. Ba says, “I’ve expanded this notion of hybridity— I’m imagining what these might look like if they’re applied visually to something personal to myself.” As of late, she has been questioning what it means to “identify with animals or vice versa” by toying with the idea of beastiality, resulting in images like riding a dog, intertwining limbs from a woman and tiger, and crawling into a cow.
A previous series of Ba’s focuses on the nostalgia she feels for 2000’s China and her childhood memories of it. She says, “I’m kind of depicting these distant, maybe even conjured memories... everything is woven into a neat narrative in my mind, but I know that’s not how it actually was.” This unreliability and ephemerality also introduces a quality of hybridization to Ba’s paintings: the paintings are undoubtedly touched by contemporaneity (being painted in Hefei, China in 2019) even if they depict more traditional activities, a mixture of “imagined and real.”
“Relationships can’t precede themselves. There is no form of you in a relationship that exists outside of a relationship.”
Ba states that her paintings refer heavily to her private world and expose her personal experiences, but she hopes that viewers can also “sympathize or recognize similar experiences with the sexuality they’ve had growing up or are experiencing now.” Sympathy seems to be a slight word compared to the paintings’ effect on their audience, which is implication. Ba’s scenes often enmesh the viewer through perspective, like when she depicts a crowded table with an open side to you, or centered figure’s gaze confronting where you might stand. You are pulled into Ba’s pictorial world as more than just a voyeur; you are part of the illicit act, caught in the crosslights by the figures. Another transgression occurs: the boundaries between the painted world and the non-painted world blur, and you become more than yourself as you stand in the spot of the painter.
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