Ying Huang (黄瑩) is a Chinese-Australian painter and printmaker whose subversive art appropriates the power of political propaganda. Her recent Political-Pie series depicts figures like Donald Trump as sinister kewpie dolls, simultaneously cute and frightening.
“I use the Kewpie doll as an inspiration because they're meant to be cheerful and kind to other people, and I gave that a bit of a twist,” Huang tells The Creators Project. This twist can be dramatic, sometimes bordering on shocking—Huang doesn’t even shy away from satirising Adolf Hitler.
“I’ve had friends say, ‘You know there are lots of other people you could do, why would you do him?’ But, we can’t just ignore what happened in history, the brutality, the things that are done to other people,” the artist explains.
Huang practices in the tradition of artists like Anselm Kiefer, who worked with materials like ash, clay and lead to brutally remind viewers of the Holocaust’s enduring relevance.“To be able to heal we have to open up that wound,” she says. “It might be painful, but that’s the only way to heal.”
Compared to Kiefer, the tone of Huang’s work is uplifting. She has a far more c’est-la-vie attitude to history, which she admits may seem odd to a Western audience. “It’s a sense of humour that you can’t really find in a first world country,” she admits.
There is more to Huang’s practice than just a puckish sense of humour, however. “Looking at history, every dictator is such a powerful figure and they all use art as a tool,” Huang says.
“I am from the post-cultural revolution generation, but all my childhood was spent growing up during a time when everything you looked at was propaganda art, it was all about Chairman Mao and the Communist Party. Making propaganda art, I was born in the propaganda country. Propaganda art is in my blood.”
For Huang, the personal and the political become two parts of the same discussion. Her personal history is tied up with China’s political struggles, with her grandfather being the first person in his village to be tortured and buried alive when the Red Army arrived in Manchuria in 1949. Later on, her mother was callously killed in a hit-and-run car accident by a member of a powerful local family whose money and influence allowed them to avoid prosecution.
So when Huang toys with iconography for the sake of having us laugh at the icons depicted, she also wants us to be aware of their power.
“If you look at the contemporary artists coming out of China at the moment, their work all has such a humour underneath,” Huang says.
“You have to grow up in that environment to be able to understand that when we have a joke, we talk about each other. It’s only if you grow up in that society that you can understand what the joke is about. People have to make fun of everyday life, because there’s nothing else you can do.”