Press SinoVision and Beyond Chinatown interviews: New York artist Fina Yeung

Excerpt from the interview article by Beyond Chinatown June 2015

BC: It seems that ideas of home and urban environments are major concerns in both of your artistic creation. Can you talk a little bit more about the themes –––for example, why they are important to you and how have your life experiences affected them?

Fina: After my trip back to Hong Kong in 2013, I started working on the theme about the idea of living space as urban cage and our choices of finding a home in cities. I grew up in a very tiny apartment in Hong Kong, where physical space is scarce. So, my emotional relationship with space and home is tied to my birthplace, Hong Kong. Back in the old days, many families would creatively extend living space by building metal cages, hung outside the original building walls of their apartments. Before they became illegal some years ago, one can find these cages of different forms and sizes everywhere. These extra spaces were not uniform, thus creating unique and variable scenes in the city. I think my memory of seeing and observing these interesting architectural forms have helped develop my artistic search in photography and painting.

BC: What are your next projects?

Fina: My next project is to explore the idea of home and the issue of living space of migrant women who live in New York City. I want to use the mixed media of photography, painting and personal interviews to express the contemporary womanhood and the reality of urban living, its excitement and discontent.

BC: Fina, almost all the photos in this show are black and white, which is very different from your colorful paintings. Why do you choose to use black and white to portray a city like Hong Kong? And can you also compare these photos with your “Hong Kong Revisited” installation?

Fina: I first exhibited these black and white photos alongside my installation work entitled “Hong Kong Revisited” during Bushwick Open Studios last year. It was a monotone installation built from 30 pieces of corrugated cardboard, painted and arranged on the walls. Both the monotone painting and photos intended to submit our visions to the haunting darkness in cage-like place like Hong Kong. The black and white photos retell stories about a city where physical space is scarce, and where new skyscrapers and old residential buildings stand side-by-side. Although old buildings are repainted and remodeled constantly, the traces of history of the overcrowded urban living can still be seen on the external walls of many buildings. With these photographs, I create not only a personal story, but also an emotional experience for those who try to find beauty in the dark side of a glamorous city.

BC: Now you are living in NYC after spending many years in Hong Kong. How would you describe the connection between these two metropolises and the inspiration you have from such connections?

Fina: Both cities are culturally diverse, glamorous and depressing at the same time. Hong Kong is well known for being overpopulated city with expensive housing market. While there are multi-million dollar high-rise apartments, some low-income people are living in nicknamed “coffin home” or cage-like home, which is only big enough to fit a person and few belongings. I left Hong Kong many years ago and I have reconnected my feeling of urban living since I moved to New York City to pursue my goal being an artist in an artist community. When I started looking for a place to live, I noticed that it was not easy to rent a place that was right for my budget and my needs. So my experience of searching for living space in New York City ignited my desire to understand the complex experience living in a city where housing and space is a major problem. This is not only about my journey, but also other people, especially women, whose stories about finding home in New York while away from their home countries.

BC: In your online portfolio, there is a self-portrait series as well as a very interesting commissioned portraits series. Did you start the self-portraits first? What’s the process of your self-exploration through this series, and how do you apply such explorations on your commissioned portraits for other people?

Fina: Actually, I started making portraits of other people first. To me, making a self-portrait indicates self-confidence, and I did not have that. However, I am always fond of creating portraits of others with both photography and painting. By creating expressions for other people in portrait, I engage myself in making stories of others and it helps reflect my own emotion. There was a long period of time I did not know how to accept myself as an artist and probably being an immigrant sometimes has confusion. Until I moved to New York City, the increasing artistic activities and experience have helped me grow a better artist. I started to examine my identity as a woman artist in western society by creating first a series of self-portraits. The series entitled “Emerging Self” is my confrontation to my emotion and my determination of self acceptance. Therefore, this emotional process of self-exploration is an important healing journey of finding self and creating new energy for both portraits of self and others.