Sunday, March 17, 2013

Artist questions identity and history in works of art

Quilt detail by Mei Ling Cann

Mei Ling Cann’s informative works of art deal with identity politics in relation to race and ethnicity.

Cann has created two quilts for the “Master of Fine Arts Degree Candidates Exhibition” that question heritage and history and the “irreconcilable differences” that can exist between them. One quilt deals with experiences in the United States while the other focuses on experiences in Taiwan.

“I treat every experience as a valuable tool to learn and create new personal realities,” said Cann. She said her work is influenced by her own experiences living as a biracial Asian American in a “racially disparate” environment.

Cann’s heritage quilts attempt to delve into history and the symbols and biases society associates with past events. For her exit show, she was influenced by childhood stories from Taiwan and recognizable symbols from the South, specifically in Georgia and North Carolina. Both of her quilts deal with controversial symbols that differ in meaning depending on region and culture.

The quilt of Taiwanese experiences depicts large swastikas. Cann said her quilt is inspired by the time she visited Taiwan as a child and noticed the symbols decorating Buddhist temples. She recalls asking her mother why hateful symbols adorned places of worship, and her mother responded that the symbols were not racist in this context, but Buddhist.

“From this initial experience, I would have many more throughout my life involving the swastika, not only as a stereotypical symbol of hate but also as a decorative and auspicious one of good luck and peace—two very contrasting interpretations,” said Cann.

Confederate flags adorn the other quilt, which reflects on the contradictory meaning of that symbol.

Cann’s informative art mainly addresses social and personal issues, health and disease. She prefers not to limit herself to one medium or certain materials; instead, she chooses a topic, then explores how to express it best.

Cann often worked on her quilts in public places during large-scale events. “Art-making in unexpected public venues really throws off inadvertent viewers and makes for interesting conversations between strangers who would have otherwise never spoken,” said Cann.

Cann grew up in the small southern town of Havelock, North Carolina. In 2008, she graduated from East Carolina University, earning a BFA with a concentration in painting and drawing as well as textile design. She is a 2013 MFA candidate at the University of Georgia in painting and drawing.

The “Master of Fine Arts Degree Candidates Exhibition” is on view at the Georgia Museum of Art March 16 to April 22, 2013, with an opening reception in conjunction with 90 Carlton: Spring on March 22. MFA Speaks is scheduled for March 21 at 5:30 p.m. and will feature the artists discussing their work.

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