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WORK OF THE WEEK | 19 November 2018

CAG.1500 Suzanna Chan, The Cabinet of Exotica, 1993, oil on canvas, 123.5 x 93.5 cm. Purchased, 1993. © the artist.

WORK OF THE WEEK! Did you know that this colourful and mysterious painting by Suzanna Chan has been in our collection since the early 1990s? At the time, she was the youngest artist to enter our collection and, today, The Cabinet of Exotica continues to capture visitors’ attention!

Partially inspired by the practice of other artists, including Frida Kahlo, Sonia Boyce, and Lubaina Himid, this work is derived from Chan’s own immigrant background and how this shaped her experiences. Through its complex imagery, and combination of doll’s house and cabinet of curiosities, the artist meditates on the stereotypes ascribed to the Far East (and particularly to Asian women) by the West, as is reflected in the title. The stage-like imagery acknowledges and challenges stereotypical gender roles.

The painting also offers an unsettling mix of scenarios. While there is a repetition of the pink (perhaps restrictive) cheongsam dress in the upper storey, there is a sense of escape in the lower portion of the canvas. A sinister white male figure haunts both scenes, however; a threat which may be echoed by the hunting scene at the top. Adding to the mix, a screen at the centre of the lower part bears images of teeth and dental tools!

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