By Kendell Yan
VANCOUVER — Mandy Tsung is constantly asked the question, “Why do you paint women?” In defiance, she questions them: “Do you ask all of these men why they paint women in this certain way? Do they ever have to explain themselves?”
Tsung is a queer, half-Chinese, intersectional feminist whose work in oil paintings and tattoos is concerned with the nuances of race, female expression, sensuality, and sexuality. “Because I am a woman I have these experiences,” she says, “I’m speaking for myself when I’m painting a woman, whereas I feel like men don’t know they are speaking for women… they paint what they see as a surface object… maybe they don’t have the concept that a woman is a person.” Besides, most of her models are close friends of hers who identify as non-binary, so while she paints the female form, she actually doesn’t just paint women.
In August, Tsung worked with a group of artists on a show called “Dirty-Knees” that focused on the varying experiences of growing up half-Asian, of being borne by two distinct cultures but never fully belonging to either. Language is one of many currencies that afford cultural flexibility. “By the time I was old enough to learn Cantonese,” she says, “I just wanted to be Canadian. You want to assimilate and there’s so much pressure to do so.”
Being queer has a huge influence on Tsung’s work, but having hit her “queer puberty” after college, she struggled in understanding and claiming it. “Someone was saying I objectify women in my paintings,” prompting counsel from her queer friends, “they said we see women in a sexual way because we’re attracted to them, but you can still make art that conveys sexuality without turning them into passive objects…that’s harmful.”
Her portrayal of the female form is subversive insofar as her approach to the subject, “I’m a woman,” she hesitates for a moment, “maybe I’m a non-man painting non-male people.” There’s a difference and Mandy Tsung wants people to learn something about why that difference exists in a movement of artists painting women.
Queer tattoo culture and non-white tattooing traditions have greatly informed her painting practice as well. “With certain designs I’ve made with half-Asian people in mind they tend to go into that community…people get it, I don’t have to write a statement about every tattoo I make, it’s understood through experience.”
In January Mandy will be collaborating with two other artists on a show titled “Strong Female Character” at Hot Art Wet City, as well as a solo show in New York in the Fall of 2017.BC, British Columbia, fine art, intersectional feminism, LGBT, Mandy Tsung, painting women, queer artist, tattoo culture