Judy K. Chan's Art
Judy Chan is a third-generation Japanese American born and raised in East Los Angeles. Chan has received numerous awards and fellowships and has exhibited widely over the years; yet, for all her present successes, Chan's art is a means by which she confronts painful moments from her past. For Chan, "creating is therapeutic." At the same time, Chan seeks to communicate a message beyond her personal experiences, speaking for others who have suffered similarly.
Chan's work for this exhibit is part of a series of paintings focused on growing up as a Japanese American in the 1940s and 1950s. In Not Welcome There, Chan recreates the setting of a lunch counter, which symbolizes the establishments that Chan and other people of color could not patronize during that time.
After being released from the Poston, Arizona concentration camp in 1943, Chan and her family relocated to Philadelphia. The menus at the top of the painting contain names of restaurants where Chan was denied service and on the right, under the heading "Price," Chan spells out "Loss of Self-Esteem." Thus, what could have been an angry response to this discrimination resulted instead in the internalization of that prejudice. The act of creating this work and returning to that moment in her life becomes a part of Chan's self-healing process.
Philadelphia, 1943 is also about a return to a specific event and reproducing it with the perspective and distance of over fifty years. Chan recalls walking with her sister and mother and being apprehended by men who yelled to them that they were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk. Although she was just a child, the consequences of this event triggered nightmares and a feeling of being threatened and in danger. In Philadelphia, 1943 the figures are all ambiguous, lacking specific features which allows the viewer to place him or herself in the position of the artist and her family. Miniature replicas of the Liberty Bell are suspended at the top of the painting and are meant to be an ironic commentary on Chan's experience in the "City of Brotherly Love."
In both Philadelphia, 1943 and Not Welcome There, the artist reimagines those instances in which she was silenced and made powerless. Through her art, Chan is able to return to those moments and take control over them, not to change the circumstances but to voice her pain and bear witness to these injustices.
In Chan's piece entitled American Beauties, she comments upon the destructive effects of mainstream standards of beauty on her self-image. As a child, Chan went with her family and friends to the Rose Parade in Pasadena. The beauty contestants that she saw riding on the floats had a significant effect on her. She recalls looking at the women with a mixture of admiration and sadness. Even then she recognized that her own Japanese features separated her from those beauty contestants, making it impossible for Chan to imagine herself in the role of the beauty queen.
On the right panel Chan recreates the parade with the beauty contestants. On the opposite panel Chan paints her self-portrait as a young girl, standing on a ladder trying to look over at the parade. Suspended from this is a Japanese doll wearing a kimono made from an American flag. Over the face of the doll Chan has placed a Caucasian doll's face, masking the Japanese features. In this work, Chan reveals the difficulty of trying to reconcile a desire for validation from the larger society with a search for self-acceptance. Although highly personal, American Beauties speaks to the pain endured by anyone whose appearance does not conform to the beauty standards of a particular society.
In What Makes A House A Home?, Chan depicts her childhood home balanced precariously on the edge of a cavern in the earth. Again Chan paints her self-portrait as a child, this time sitting quietly on the opposite panel from the house. Five jars hang from the frame. The jar on the right contains simply dirt and rock. On the left, the first jar is filled with dirt and broken pieces of Japanese dishes, the second with toys, and the third with an American flag and manila tags with the words "Poston, Arizona" inscribed on them. In the final jar, Chan places a broken mirror as a symbol of the splintered image she had of herself as a young girl.
The significance of Judy Chan's art lies in its ability to make the viewer adopt a new perspective, resulting in, at least, a momentary transformation. Certainly the juxtaposition of Chan's work with the other participating artists will open an even broader terrain for further interpretation and transformation.
Since receiving a Master of Fine Arts from California State University, Long Beach in 1986, Judy Chan has worked from her Long Beach studio creating works on paper with a variety of media. Chan recently received a Visual Artists Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and has exhibited her work throughout Southern California. She also teaches fine art printmaking at Long Beach City College.