We had the good fortune of connecting with Sijia Chen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sijia, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born and raised in a family of artist and creative types in a small portside city in China. My dad is a papercut artist, photographer and graphic designer, and my mom is a writer and businesswoman. At the age of 16, I attended a boarding school in Guangzhou that specialized in the visual arts. I continued my education at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts for my undergraduate studies, and then moved to Philadelphia and attended Tyler School of Art. After receiving my MFA I moved to Los Angeles, where I currently reside and operate my studio in the Hollywood neighborhood. I was a sensitive child who valued and was accustomed to having a strong family support structure, so moving away from home was quite challenging. Uprooting from my hometown at a young age and moving to Guangzhou, the biggest city of southern China with a population 30 million people, the frenetic metropolitan lifestyle left me feeling simultaneously excited and intimidated. Naturally, I took to my art as a form of relief, if not therapy. This process of documenting my emotions and experiences in my paintings and photography, which I continue to do today, it turned my work essentially into my sanctuary, in which I feel completely safe and free to explore my consciousness. My move to Philadelphia was the first time I ever travelled outside of China. As one would expect I experienced a great deal of cultural shock. I was overwhelmed at times but appreciated the kindness that I received, however nonetheless I felt lost from time to time, as I tried to grasp my standing in the unique melting pot that is America. This sentiment of finding my place in a culturally rich and diverse environment reached a climax when I moved to Los Angeles. The singular multicultural fabric that makes up Los Angeles provided a vehicle of opportunity to explore and examine the complex layers of the immigrant experience, the perpetual notion of the in between, the Here and There. This gradual but persistent acculturation happening within, and the juxtaposition of East and West, it has and continues to shape who I am, and defines what I do.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am very excited about my new series that touches on my experience as a first-generation immigrant. This series addresses the Here and There. There is a line from an ancient Chinese volume of poetry, the Book of Odes, it states, “climbing the mountains and crossing the rivers, under the frost and rains”, describing a long, challenging and meaningful journey. This line deeply resonates with me when I reflect on my own experiences, as well as the stories of other immigrants. I am articulating that journey in my work, by using myriad media such as government immigration forms, news printouts and magazine pages, from which I carefully cut out forms in various shapes, both organic and manmade, and overlapping them to compose mountains and rivers. My exploration of the traditional papercut is very important to me, it’s me paying tribute to the heritage of my hometown, while also sparking a fresh and stimulating artistic dialogue between my father and me. My recent work also includes several commissioned public art pieces. I relish the opportunity to create work for a community that incorporates my personal narrative but is also responsive to the communal cultural landscape. I find the process of collaborating with residents to be essential and rewarding, and it provides insight that informs my creative process. My intent is to explore the history, culture, and values of the community, and distill them into my work.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Under normal circumstances, I would say go to the beach, take a walk through the Culver City gallery district, visit LACMA, and end the day with a breathtaking nighttime view of downtown LA from Griffith Observatory. I would also encourage my friends to try as many types of cuisine as possible, LA has a lot of great restaurants featuring delicious food from so many parts of the world!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many! My parents and my husband, who have always been by my side and supported me at every single step. The Zhou Brothers and Sergio Gomez, who gave me my first solo show opportunity in America, which eventually led to my settling down here permanently, and have been some of my strongest advocates. Max Presneill, who believes in me and provided me the platform for my first cross continental show at Torrance Art Museum. My friend Jenny Hager, who never hesitates to lend a hand. My peers and professors at Tyler, who were the curators of my unforgettable experience as a wide-eyed graduate student in a delightfully foreign place. My colleagues at Durden and Ray, who I know I can always rely on. For the people and representatives at Shantou and Jieyang in China, Claremont, CA and North Kansas City, MO, who trusted in my ability, and shared in my vision to create site specific commissioned public art for their communities. And to my digital friends – my followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, many of whom I’ve never met in real life, but nevertheless are a constant presence of support.