The Weight of Water
Exploring Dominique Fung’s Subversive Artistic Lens
Western art history has often been criticized for presenting a skewed perspective influenced by systems of imperialism. European painters, such as Delacroix, JÃ©an LÃ©on GÃ©rÃ´me, and Rousseau, have perpetuated stereotypes and exoticized depictions of the East. For Dominique Fung, a second-generation Chinese-Canadian painter based in Brooklyn, these problematic notions serve as the foundation for her reimagining of art history. Through her luscious and inviting paintings, Fung challenges the binary view of the world by giving her subjects agency and redefining their identities.
A Welcoming Veneer with Provocative Themes
Fung’s paintings captivate viewers with their sensuous tones, glossy finishes, and warm aesthetic. At first glance, they may not appear critical, but upon closer inspection, Fung’s subjects reveal their protests, laughter, and absurd gestures, asserting themselves politically. This juxtaposition of a polished aesthetic and challenging themes mirrors the complexity found in stand-up comedy, where seemingly funny narratives often carry profound undertones. Fung draws inspiration from this multi-layered approach, using humor and the uncanny to engage her audience.
Unraveling Tropes and Reclaiming Agency
Through her art, Fung aims to dismantle Western interpretations of the East by utilizing the imagery and techniques of traditional European painting. She incorporates imagery of lounging nude women, reminiscent of nineteenth-century European and Orientalist paintings, to challenge societal norms that restrict East Asian women’s sexuality and visibility. Fung acknowledges the problematic depictions found in historical European art but reframes them to negotiate with the past. By repetitively featuring these artifacts, vessels, and sculptures as animate protagonists, Fung reclaims their agency from being mere cultural tropes.
Confronting Fetishization and Exoticism
Fung’s work initiates conversations surrounding fetishization and exoticism through her still lifes. Drawing from theoretical texts like Anne Anlin Cheng’s “Ornamentalism,” she explores the peri humanity of Asiatic femininity and the subjective coercion, reduction, and discipline experienced by these subjects. Fung incorporates objects in her paintings as vehicles for discourse around fetishism and othering and reclaims those objects that have been reduced to mere tropes in historical depictions.
Blurring Boundaries and Exploring New Mediums
In addition to oil painting, Fung has recently delved into installation and ceramic work. These new mediums allow her to create multisensory experiences and evoke specific emotions and ideas. While experimenting with new materials comes with challenges, Fung embraces the excitement of exploring unfamiliar territories. As she continues to incorporate these mediums into her practice, she aims to conceptualize the best way to integrate them seamlessly.
Diving into the Depths of Water
Water plays a significant role in Fung’s work, taking on various forms through fountains, baths, and pools. While its presence may not always represent actual water, it embodies a range of sensations and emotions within her paintings. Whether stillness, energy, flow, containment, explosiveness, calmness, or observation, water serves as a vehicle for Fung to convey the complex sensations and ineffable qualities she strives to achieve with her brushstrokes.
Reimagining Bathhouses as Empowering Spaces
Fung finds inspiration in Japanese woodblock prints depicting bathhouses, which symbolize community and self-care. Unlike spas, which often cater to a specific socioeconomic class, bathhouses welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds. They offer an inclusive space where people can gather, free from judgment, to engage in the simple act of self-care. By challenging the dehumanizing portrayal of bathhouses in historical artworks, Fung aims to create new narratives that celebrate community, acceptance, and empowerment.
An Artistic Ritual and the Power of Music
Fung maintains an orderly studio space, spending significant time ensuring cleanliness and organization before delving into her creative process. She embraces a diverse range of musical genres while painting, finding inspiration in everything from top 50 hits and rap to Broadway musicals and movie soundtracks. The constantly evolving playlist allows her to maintain focus during long hours of uninterrupted studio work.
A Personal Journey through Artistic Influence
Fung’s fascination with oil painting traces back to her early exposure to Baroque, Dutch, and Flemish Renaissance artworks. Though residing in areas with limited access to contemporary art during her youth, she admired the technical mastery employed by these classical painters. Instead of being drawn to the underlying ideas associated with Baroque and Rococo styles, Fung was more interested in applying the techniques to captivate viewers and create an immersive experience.
Mastering Techniques for Engagement
Traditional European oil painting has taught Fung the significance of lighting and drama in directing the viewer’s attention. By skillfully employing these techniques, she successfully guides the audience’s gaze and creates focal points within her artwork. This understanding of visual engagement extends beyond painting, influencing her future plans for sculpture and installation work.
The Intersection of Sculpture and Painting
Fung’s experimentation with ceramics has resulted in the creation of unique objects that become subjects in her paintings. By incorporating these sculptures into her artworks, Fung seamlessly blends figuration and still life, further blurring the boundaries between two-dimensional and three-dimensional art forms. These hybrid compositions add depth and intrigue to her paintings, expanding their narrative possibilities.
An Illusionary Playground
Fung delights in playing with size, scale, and illusion in her work. She often magnifies objects or creates surreal environments to evoke a sense of the uncanny and challenge binary perspectives. By intentionally subverting expectations, Fung invites viewers to question their assumptions and engage in a dialogue with her art.
Pioneers of Inclusion in the Art World
While many art institutions have a long way to go regarding inclusion, Dominique Fung highlights two galleries that she believes are making strides in this regard. The New Museum stands out for its fearless curation, consistently presenting thought-provoking exhibitions by marginalized artists. The Brooklyn Museum, while not without its imperfections, removes barriers by eliminating entrance fees, allowing a wider audience to engage with art. Exhibitions featuring artists like Liz Johnson Artur, Frida Kahlo, and the upcoming show by Kehinde Wiley contribute to the diversification of art spaces.
Dominique Fung’s paintings challenge the traditional Western perspective, rewriting art history and giving her subjects agency. Through her mastery of sensuous tones, glossy finishes, and engaging narratives, she invites viewers to question existing stereotypes and narratives. Fung’s use of humor, subversion, and a polished aesthetic creates an accessible entry point for deeper conversations about identity, sexuality, and cultural representation. Her exploration of new mediums, such as installation and ceramics, further broadens the possibilities for artistic expression. As Fung continues to push boundaries and challenge conventions, her artworks serve as catalysts for reimagining the art world and creating a more inclusive future.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What inspired Dominique Fung to challenge Western art history?
Dominique Fung’s exploration of her Chinese-Canadian identity and her personal experiences sparked a desire to challenge traditional Western art history. She sought to reimagine historical narratives and give her subjects agency, countering the problematic depictions found in European paintings.
2. How does Dominique Fung incorporate humor into her paintings?
Humor plays a significant role in Fung’s artwork. By incorporating elements of the uncanny and the absurd, she engages viewers and invites them to question their preconceived notions. Fung draws inspiration from stand-up comedy, where seemingly light and funny narratives often carry deeper layers of meaning.
3. What is the significance of water in Dominique Fung’s work?
Water serves as a metaphor and a sensory experience in Fung’s paintings. It represents various emotions, energies, and states of being. Whether stillness, flow, or containment, water encapsulates ineffable qualities that Fung strives to convey through her brushwork.
4. How does Dominique Fung challenge exoticism and fetishization in her art?
Fung confronts exoticism and fetishization by subverting traditional depictions of Asian subjects. Through her paintings, she reclaims agency for her subjects and challenges the objectifying gaze often present in historical European artworks. Fung’s use of imagery and repetition serves to redefine cultural tropes and create alternative narratives.
5. Which art institutions are making progress in terms of inclusivity?
Dominique Fung highlights the New Museum and the Brooklyn Museum as institutions that are actively working towards greater inclusivity. The New Museum courageously curates exhibitions featuring marginalized artists, while the Brooklyn Museum strives to remove barriers by offering free admission, allowing more people to access and engage with art.