Q+Art: Textile Artist Clare Hu Honors, Then Dismantles Her Southern Upbringing
Now based in Brooklyn, Chinese-American artist Clare Hu grew up in the Deep South. Her recent body of work, an impressive array of suspended tarps, explores the historic markers contributing to Southern mythology through a personal lens.
Hu’s focus is ultra specific. Her ideas revolve around cultural shifts particular to Atlanta’s Chinese-American community in the 1970s and ‘80s, a time when Civil Rights legislation opened the doors for increased immigration to the States. “By focusing on a relatively small and expanding community, [I] connect these experiences to the larger history of Chinese Americans who have immigrated and lived in the South since before the Civil War,” Hu explains.
A recent wave of anti-Asian sentiment, spurred by coronavirus misinformation, makes Hu’s work especially relevant. Printing her woven works with family photos and Southern iconography, Hu marries the personal with the political. Her visually obstructive tarps navigate a grey area, creating both division and “a soft place to land.”
Ultimately, Hu hopes there’s room to grow past hurtful traditions while holding on to cherished memories. “By exploring both sides of these permeable tarps, [I] ask how firm the traditions that build these narratives are, and attempt to disrupt the monolithic idea of what the South is imagined to be.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Clare Hu discusses the complexity of her Southern upbringing, archiving history through objects, and learning not to take shortcuts with her work.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Clare Hu: These are probably the books that have been rolling around in my head the past year or so: Jane by Maggie Nelson, The Leavers by Lisa Ko, Blockchain Chicken Farm by Xiaowei Wang and How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang.
Which cultural concepts, themes, or philosophies inform your work?
CH: Right now I'm thinking a lot about my own Southern upbringing and ways to honor the complex nature of my own family structure within that. How sometimes these ideals are in direct conflict with each other and ways to reckon with them through textiles.
This includes a lot of research on the Chinese-American community during the ‘70s and ‘80s around metro-Atlanta and the many ways myths and stories surrounding Southern nostalgia as a whole are solidified and normalized in culture.
In conjunction with that I've been thinking about construction and renovation as symbols of transition, physical imprints landscapes hold through monumental change, loss of language, and my own grandmothers, who I never really knew
What are you trying to express with your art?
DB: Monumentality in the mundane and how these mundane objects can become historical and archival in their recordings of massive and minor transitions.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
DB: The best piece of advice I've ever gotten was my first year fiber professor telling me that if I wasn't happy with how a work turned out, I should always start over until I got it right no matter what; learning to not take shortcuts with my own work. The worst advice or stereotype I've been told was that it's impossible to have a family and be a working artist at the same time.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
DB: It's always a struggle! Work and busy seasons always ebb and flow. Right now I'm really lucky to have an understanding partner who gets that I might have to be in the studio until late at night and a flexible work schedule in conjunction with that.
Honestly, the thing that has helped me the most is scheduling my weeks out in advance.
What does generosity mean to you as an artist?
DB: For me, that means being as generous as possible with time, skill, and resource-sharing. I've really been blessed by the generosity others have shown me, and I hope to continue to pay it forward.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
DB: Creating conversation, community and understanding. Honoring craft practices, finding longevity in my studio, and keeping my own curiosity.
If you had to pick one, would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist? Why?
DB: Always historically significant. The artists I look up to and whose work I look at frequently have always had a deep impact culturally and within art movements. I make work to find connections and offer another perspective. I feel lucky that I don't have to focus on the sell-ability of my work, limiting what I make.
What role should money play in the art world?
DB: As minimum of a role as possible. I would love to see my peers being paid fairly and regularly for their labor and projects, and the trends of the art world swayed less by pay-to-play museum committees and small groups of collectors.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
DB: I'm currently working on a smaller body of work, these "prospective patches"—making intentional collaged work for future textiles and tarps that have yet to materialize. The process of piecing together woven offcuts combined with screen prints and pieced quilts has become quite cathartic for me the past few months.
What do you do to maintain your mental health?
DB: Giving days to myself! The days where I can take myself out for food, grab a coffee, and go somewhere new are always when I feel the most recharged.
How does your geographical location affect your work and/or success?
DB: I think it's so important, especially for me working as an emerging artist. The community that you surround yourself with affects how you think about your own work and how it manifests in the studio.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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