Phung Huynh is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work investigates notions of cultural identity from a kaleidoscopic perspective, a continual shift of idiosyncratic translations. The contemporary American landscape is where she explores how “outside” cultural ideas are imported, disassembled, and then reconstructed. In an overwhelmingly diverse metropolis such as Los Angeles, images flood our social lens through mass reproduction and social media, taking on multiple [mis]interpretations. Such reflections have guided Huynh in re-stitching traditional Chinese iconography within the loosely woven fabric of American popular culture. There is a purposeful “Chinatown” aesthetic in Huynh’s paintings, alluding to kitsch souvenirs that tourists purchase and commodifications of eastern icons into tchotchkes. Dismantling cultural authenticity, she paints images of Chinese cherubs, lotus, carp and silk textile designs with a “pop” veneer that collide in a complicated composition of delight and horror to challenge the viewer with a western-leaning perspective, as well as the viewer with a nonwestern-leaning perspective.
Huynh’s most current work continues to probe the questions of cultural perception and cultural authenticity through images of the Asian female body vis-à-vis plastic surgery. She references Chinese feet-binding as one of the earliest forms of cosmetic surgery to contrast the antiquated canon of Asian feminine beauty (small feet, small eyes, a broad forehead, and small breasts) with the current trends of body image influenced by western canons that call for larger eyes, a delicate forehead, a taller nose, and larger breasts. Huynh is interested in how contemporary plastic surgery on Asian women have not only obscured racial identity, but how it has also amplified the exoticism and Orientalist eroticism of Asian women. The awkward synthesis of her projects of traditional and non-traditional, of east and west, unravel ideas of cultural representations and stereotypes to challenge how we consume and interpret ethnographic signifiers.