I imagine I am much like other girls trying to feel their way into becoming a woman.
The modern Asian Australian female experience is a pendulum that swings between the extremes of invisibility and hyper-exotification.
I have become relatively accustomed to questions like “What are you? You don’t really look Asian… are you actually fully Asian? Why is your hair curly?”
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of these questions is that they often come from fellow Asian women. The textbook Asian appearance tends to fit this particular description: Fair, with yellow-toned skin, monolids, and straight, jet black hair. This image has been engrained so deeply and intensely in the way that we think, that we are now oblivious to the multi-faceted aspects of our culture. In a society that traditionally underestimates our biological and social variation, it is crucial that we look for courage and validation within ourselves and the sisters of our own community in order to truly accept our diverse Asian Australian identities.
Artwork by Nayda A. Cuevas
Just as the modern artists exploited the portrait’s potential to convey identity, the 21st century selfie trend extends this practice to the common person, the non-artist.
Exploring the selfie, and its increasing prevalence in our culture, led me to realize that there are sub-themes within how people examine or present identity such as ethnic, gender, or religious identity.
Selfies are an expression of one’s identity, however contrived or imagined it may be. For this reason, my artwork calls attention to the ways in which new technologies allow individuals to actively voice their opinions through self-portraiture. At the same time by engaging in traditional forms of portrait painting —namely, naturalistic representations of people rendered in oil on canvas— I seek to challenge how we currently consume images at an alarming rate and volume, without devoting substantial time or energy to sufficiently digest, contemplate, and understand what we see.
This condition is created because we now experience the world through digital devices such as cell phones, which provide easy and instant access to imagery from a wide range of sources. Over-reliance on devices, is harming our ability to have valuable face-to-face conversations; the most human thing we do, by splitting our attention and diminishing our capacity for empathy.
My most recent series, entitled Reclaiming the Latina Tag, is appropriated from Tumblr in which the creator of Reclaiming the Latina Tag blog has encouraged woman to join her in taking back the hashtag. The goal of the blog is to have a safe, respectful community for all Latina women on social media. The painted portraits are an extension to further the dialogue outside of cyberspace.
I am interested in how the selfie takes advantage of the ways we naturally understand identity in real-world encounters: by recognition and association with the face. Faces are not only a means of identifying an individual; they also embody emotions. We all have the ability to read facial expressions of emotions, thus, facial expressions are one way in which we empathize with one another. Removing the images from cyber space is one step to gain empathy from the viewer.
The second is what Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, refers to in her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Here she calls us to put away our digital devices and have a one on one conversation.
I aim to encourage the viewer to consider the lives of others. In this regard, my paintings and performance serve to celebrate the diversity within the Latino community in the United States and to explore the complex ways in which people negotiate issues of ethnic identity using social media as a means of social activism.
Nayda A. Cuevas http://www.naydacuevasart.com