(As part of my application to Pro Arts, Oakland. Many thanks to my cousin Henry Lien for his literary prowess and ideas.)
This body of work is entitled “Cinderflora.” The work is a series of mixed media sculptures incorporating hand‐painted cinder blocks, bricks, paper flowers, reeds, stems, and other forms of flora. Accompanying the sculptural pieces, is a triptych of a deconstructed traditional landscape– fragmented and broken as a backdrop to the immigrant experience.
This series gives voice to the buried histories of women of color and their contributions to American history. Using traditional philosophies of wabi‐sabi, ikebana, and kintsugi, these pieces show an appreciation for decline, the rhythm of growth and decay, and the use of cracks and imperfections as sources for newfound strength. Using figurative imagery, elements of floral arrangement, and the traditional “women’s craft” of paper flowers, it collides organic, natural forms with industrial building materials to explore the oft‐ overlooked meanings in conventional objects.
The central motif of flora in an urban environment serves as a metaphor for the untold efforts of women of color in history. Instead of equating flowers to women in any of the historically cliché, retrograde ways, the work deconstructs our view of them and highlights their ability to harness patience and resilience to pierce through seemingly impenetrable obstacles. Similarly, industrial materials are used to emphasize the strength of composite materials, but through decomposition and breaking down in uniquely different or unexpected ways, becoming nourishment as a means for growth.
To strike a delicate balance between two assumed binaries; harsh, industrial building materials are paired with natural, delicate ones to question our assumptions around seemingly opposing concepts such as fragile/strong, delicate/harsh, beauty/imperfection, and growth/decay. Each piece tells a different story of nature waiting for man‐made obstacles to crumble, seeking fissures and cracks as a point of entry to find its path into the light.
The title of the series itself attempts to rehabilitate a reviled cliche of a female narrative. The story of Cinderella is perhaps most controversial, because it is a traditional fairytale of finding salvation in a prince’s arms. It elicits sneers from progressives as readily as floral craftwork does, and yet‐ Cinderella’s story can also be read as a tale of hard work, patience, resourcefulness, and taking advantage of opportunities as it presents itself. The alternative reading of Cinderella’s story harmonizes with the alternative reading of paper flowers; which, in turn, suggests an alternate recounting of women’s stories. The title of the series intentionally echoes this rehabilitation to question politically unpopular or outdated motifs, while the work takes back cultural appropriations, examines rooted biases and buried traditional values‐‐reinvigorating them and bringing them to light.
Personally, the Cinderflora series reflects my need to express gratitude for the strength and efforts of women who came before me, whose own stories were buried to give me a voice. In unearthing even the most recent, unspoken histories within my own ancestral past, I am struck by the resilience and fortitude of the women in my family. Each overlooked and broken in uniquely different ways, but in breaking down, demonstrated resourcefulness and vitality despite having lived through unrelenting obstacles in harsh surroundings.
This series represents my need to craft my own narrative through a composite stories of others. It examines who I am as a woman of color as a part of a larger, historically under‐ represented community within American history.
–San Francisco, October 2015