“The art work in the exhibit "is part of an ongoing series exploring my Chinese heritage, its effects on my life, and those around me"
I agreed with the opinion of Meena Alexander about Asian American Aesthetics. Alexander believes with a resolute “yes” that there is Asian American Aesthetics in art (178). I think that Cynthia Tom's work is good example of Asian American aesthetics in art. A large series of Tom's paintings feature beautiful Asian women in surreal environments or pictures of the female form in dresses combining both Eastern and Western styles. Tom uses her paintings to combine images, both Eastern and Western, challenging stereotypes and traditional female and Asian roles. In many of her paintings, the viewer will notice Asian women, Chinese characters, and Asian style dresses. She expresses herself through a combination of both the female form and Chinese imagery. Along with the beautiful imagery depicted in her paintings, there are often complex psychological undertones hidden in her paintings.
There are two issues that frequently show up in her paintings. One issue that Tom faces is that she is both Asian-American and a woman. She can brings awareness to and challenge these issues in her paintings. One of the main issues that run through her work is about self-acceptance, especially of the female body. Tom celebrates the female form by trying to reinforce the concept that the female form is beautiful, and encourages the acknowledgement of different body types. For Tom, her paintings of women express an acceptance of her own body.
Another issue that drives Tom is of being Asian-American. Tom does not care too much for all the labels that are attached to her and her work, whether it's being called an "Asian American female artist" or a "surrealist artist." Tom sees herself simply as an artist, who is driven by a need to paint, and she chooses to ignore any labeling during her creative process. People are always trying to label her as either a "female" or "Asian-American" artist. In response to what people have tried to define her as, she simply says, "Society insists on labels, and sometimes you have to provide labels for marketing purposes. So I do it, but really I just want to paint." It appears that Tom does not care too much for all the labels that are attached to her and her work, whether it's being called an "Asian American female artist" or a "surrealist artist." In stating this, Tom finds that being an Asian American has not been an obstacle for her in her professional or artistic life, but instead, she finds it to be an advantage. Tom finds that artwork by Asian Americans happens to be a niche market and she is prepared to take full advantage of it.
Although I really enjoyed all of her paintings, the painting that I felt had the most meaning and that was an excellent example of Asian-American Aesthetics is Tom's Angel Island Series. Tom is successful with this series of work because it is easily interpreted by a general audience. This series of work is easier to interpret than her other works. Fred Houn states that, “Art must reach broadly and include and reach different classes, but it must be clear whose interest it serves” (48). I believe that Tom’s Angel Island Series accomplishes that. Angel Island was a detention center operated by Immigration and Naturalization Services as a gateway to control the flow of Chinese immigrants to the United States. Angel Island was often called the “Ellis Island of the West” (178). Alexander believes that an artist needs to “evoke chaos a power equal to the injustices that surround us.” I believe that Tom accomplishes that with these series of paintings. The Angel Island series educates the viewer about the Angel Island Immigration experience on Chinese women. These paintings give a voice to the women interned and interrogated on Angel Island from 1910-1940, San Francisco. The Angel Island Series is reflective of both current and past events. Tom uses her paintings as tools to communicate personal issues that have affected herself and others. The focus of these series of paintings are of interpretive "mug shot" portraits of Chinese women. These are paintings taken from the actual “mug shots” taken from Angel Island. Tom’s exhibit also includes a number of items evocative of the times, such as poetry, interrogation transcripts, books, photographs, etc. By painting these “mug shots” of these women, Tom educates the public of hardship and struggles that Chinese immigrants had when coming to America. By creating these pieces of art she is both educating the public and honoring the women of her past.