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Above Water 4

Above Water 4
photo assemblage
30.5 x 41 cm. (12 x 16 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2012
Private Collection, Asia

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Sylvia Cheung
Sylvia Cheung

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Lot Essay


“I hope my work is recognizable as being by a woman, though I certainly would never deliberately make it feminine in any way, in subject or treatment. But if I speak in a voice which is my own, it's bound to be the voice of a woman.” -Isabel Bishop, 1978

Christie's is delighted to dedicate a section of this sale to works by young women artists, confirming a renewed interest in female painters who have long been overshadowed by their male counterparts. In an essay published in 1930 introducing her sister and celebrated painter Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf reflects upon the generations of daughters who were denied their right to become artists simply because their "fathers would have died rather than let [them] look upon a naked man".

The selection of works feature artists in search of their identity, speaking in a voice that is unique, a voice that is inevitably that of a woman. For some, the language finds its source in the imagery of childhood. Ayako Rokkaku spontaneously paints with her hands colorful little girls with big cartoonish eyes in a flowery landscape (lot 424) to tell her own story. In a similar way influenced by Japanese animation, Aya Tanako reclaims the highly gendered manga culture by sexually empowering the image of the singular woman, a sort of powerful grey-haired witch in tune with the animals and Nature (lot 423). Chen Ke's narrative is more melancholic, suggesting a quiet childhood tainted by loneliness, not uncommon in the One Child policy System (lots 425 & 426).

Internationally recognized Chinese artist Liang Yuanwei chooses the meticulously repeated floral pattern in Piece of Life (Lot428) that calls to mind fine embroidery, evoking the domestic labor of generations of women. As with the repetition of Chinese characters in Duan Jianyu's Good Morning No.10 (Lot 429), both artists convey the inner tension inherent to the creative process behind the semblance of calm. Kong Lingnan creates an eery spearfishing scene bathed in neon light (Lot 432), while Song Kun captures fragments of time exalted by fantasy, to warn about the potential changes of this world.

Following from the theme of identity last season, this selection of works by Southeast Asian artists goes further, focusing on the human condition and the tension within our inner psyche. There is a sense of exigency in these works: cutting, gouging and rubbing are all violent and physical acts that seek to reveal our truths.

Like Rokkaku, Donna Ong (lot 435) returns to childhood themes of magic and escape through her cabinet of curiosities, but for her they are a means to explore the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge through semiotics. In Nona Garcia's hands (lot 434), Ong's technique of cutting and layering images turns into a reconstructed disassemblage of a monochromatic flood wreckage in Thailand, with the ability to reveal our human need for order and control.

The outstretched hands of Barabas Lights #05 (lot 433) reference the Biblical figure of Barabbas, who was pardoned from crucifixion in the place of Jesus. This juxtaposition of hope and despair are fundamental elements of our human existence, as is the idea of space and the way in which we navigate it that Jane Lee (lot 436) explores through her melting canvases.

All these works in this section reveal an astute psychological resonance and apprehension of the complex experiences that we encounter as we navigate through our current contemporary climate, and an uncanny ability to capture this in their own visual language.

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