Andrea Chung in Locale Magazine 11.22.17

Andrea Chung’s Powerful Work is as Sweet as It Looks

Q: Your exhibit in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is titled “You broke the ocean in half to be here.” Where does that come from?

Andrea Chung: The title comes from a poem by Nayyirah Waheed. The rest of that line is ‘…only to make nothing that wants you.’ It’s the perfect theme for what my work is discussing. The largest part of the exhibition are two site-specific installations featuring lionfish. It’s a really beautiful fish, but the problem is they eat everything and are destroying so much. They don’t have any natural predators, so it’s a really good metaphor for colonialism, which came in and decimated everything in the Caribbean.

Q: How did you end up studying for a graduate degree in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, when so much of your focus is on the Caribbean?

AC: Watching PBS, I love ‘Globe Trekker.’ I remember watching it and thinking Mauritius was in the Caribbean. It was a sugar colony next to Madagascar, and last colonized by Britain. So actually it’s very similar to the Caribbean islands. The food and migration patterns are very similar. At the time I was looking at food ways, and how they relate to migration patterns. For example, dishes that are specific to the Caribbean may have a Chinese or European background. I took the same approach with Mauritius.

Q: How did investigating your family roots in the Caribbean help you understand their way of life?

AC: Initially, I wondered why my grandparents ended up where they were. My grandpa was born in China and ended up in Jamaica. How? You have to look at the history of migration patterns and the circumstances that made him leave. It was during the Cultural Revolution. He boarded a boat and thought he was going to San Francisco and ended up in Jamaica. Imagine! He completely lost touch with all of his family for the rest of his life. I like to think about that transition, or what it was like for my grandma, taking care of nine children by herself. She became a Garveyite, or a big supporter of Marcus Garvey.

Q: How does your art help you connect with their way of life?

AC: My work helps me make sense of their history. A lot of things that happened in the past are very hard to learn about. Slavery is a hard situation to wrap your head around and how it affects your family and how it reverberates to now. And how the affects of colonialism are still present today. I’m reading ‘Return to the Postcolony’ by TJ Demos right now, and it helps explain that broad narrative.

Q: You started out as an illustrator and a painter, but I’ve heard you be described as a “mixed media conceptual artist.” Can you please explain that evolution?

AC: It was mostly through grad school. I applied to be in the painting program and I was waitlisted. I did, however, get into the interdisciplinary program. I was so poor that I was painting on butcher paper with black and white acrylic paint. But I never had the same passion for painting that my friends did. After watching ‘Art 21’ on PBS and visiting the library I realized I could use different materials. A lot of materials came out of not having any money to buy things. I had a friend that would go dumpster diving. I started thinking of migration and how people were items that were imported and exported and it all related to sugar. I painted with sugar and even did my first sculpture with sugar.

Q: How does using materials in your pieces allow you to express yourself better than other art mediums?

AC: The materials have a loaded history. Even though sugar is a mundane thing that we take for granted, it really has shaped the way the world looks and comes with its own history. It helps me connect to a certain audience. I don’t think that painting with traditional materials does that for me. I couldn’t tell a complicated story through two-dimensional paint.

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