Essential Macau | Audacious endeavors

In Macau’s creative and artistic community, Kay Zhang is a familiar name. Young, talented, sophisticated and intelligent, she spends her time between Macau and Beijing, working on a doctorate degree under world famous mentors – among them is contemporary Chinese artist and vice-president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Xu Bing.

By Irene Sam

Born in 1991, Zheng is also an Art Professor at the University of Macau, and the youngest Macao artist nominated by Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Graduated from the Experimental School of Arts at the China Central Academy of Fine Art, Kay is a painter and book-maker. “Ever since I was a child, I knew I wanted to become a painter, but the pursuit of it as a lifelong profession came because I had the full support of my parents”, she admits.

Her first solo exhibition, “Innocencepedia”, is manifestation of her life as a woman and how she perceives sexuality in art and artists’ inner self in private domains. To Zhang, nudity in classical paintings is linked to carnal desire. An artist who does not deny this notion, she deliberately creates images to liberalize desire rather than deterring someone from the subject matter. Our society shies away from talking about sex, as it is often associated with pornography or obscenity. Yet, it is a fact that humans are curious about their own body even at a young age.

Considering her works as the elements of an encyclopedia in “Innocencepedia”, she exposes her own imagination and fantasy about sex, but it is up to the viewer of her work to determine whether they are innocent or not. Sexual pleasures and excitements are present in many articles of her first exhibition. While the work, presented in a book format, looks stylistically classical, with its exquisite drawings and detailed embellishment, the clarity of what Zhang is trying to express through the audacious theme is undeniable.

“Creating my first exhibition and showing it to the world is like exposing my whole being, it is a very personal experience to me, but it is up to the audience to see whether they could relate to it. As a woman, I go through stages in my life and I want to be brave enough to tell my story when I am ready and audacious enough to do so”, she explains.

For Zhang, it is important to be understood as an artist as well as a human being.  She had a second exhibition in 2019, which explored her conscious and unconscious relationship with her father. “My father always wanted to have a boy, but I turned out to be a girl, and he decided to raise me as a boy when I was growing up. There are things I would like to communicate to him, but not with words. Therefore, ‘Daddy Exhibition’ serves as a communicative tool for me”, she indicates.

If “Innocencepedia” was highly decorative, “Daddy Exhibition” was characterized by straight lines that mimic a frame. Symmetrical and orderly frames with detailed specifications are usually associated with old religious solemn altarpieces. Usually, these are placed in front of a church depicting stories of the Virgin Mary or Jesus. Eagerness to be understood is conveyed through three works drawn in the form of an altarpiece which exudes sacredness. “My father is not someone who reveals his emotions, so there was not much to observe from him after the exhibition had ended. He might have some emotions, but if he does he keeps them to himself”, she assumes.

While artistic creation is her main vocation, Zhang feels fortunate to have a stable teaching job at the University of Macau which provides her with an income. “I have always taken my teaching position at the university seriously, but I’m finding it increasingly more and more meaningful. In a way, through teaching art appreciation, I am shaping the society. It is like providing the right soil for flowers to grow in the future. As an artist, I am ambitious, and during various moments of my life I am going to make different types of art. These artworks will become traces of my life, but teaching is just as important to me, if not more, because it will affect the next generation.”

“In our modern society, learning about art does not necessarily mean that one would acquire a certain set of survival skills. As an educator, I am very happy to share my thoughts and interpretations about fine arts, but many students might not be able to understand the nuances. It is only my hope that through lectures they will become curious and start to connect themselves with the artistic world”, she says.

From education to art, Zhang considers herself a female artist and professor, but does not believe that women should have an edge or be considered in a different way than men. “When one thought of female artists in the past, a name like Frida Kahlo would pop up because female artists were seen as women with a strong personality, but as time goes on, female artists are not rare anymore, and they have their unique approach to art”, she believes.

In her next exhibition, Zhang will pair artwork with poetry. A lover of verbal as well as of visual expression, she feels the urge to communicate her imaginative ideas acquired from reading poetry into artworks that can be appreciated through a large canvas format. “When I read a poem, an image immediately comes into the mind. I like love poems because there are strong emotions behind them. Through emotions I feel the desire to paint and I want to share this feeling.”

“I chose to paint on large canvases this time, because I want to grab the audiences’ attention. The visuals should be strong enough to attract stares and glances before anyone starts to approach the art pieces and try to understand them. This is a challenge because interpreting a work requires someone with knowledge, but if one has the right skills, art could be appreciated on the superficial level just as a visual effect as well”, she comments.