As sharp instruments penetrated the fragile surface of her eyelids, reshaping them from a single lid to form a creased, double lid, Weijue Wang remembers likening the sensation to someone felting on her skin.
"Although I can't feel the pain, I can feel the doctor using needles going through my skin and pulling on the muscles," Wang tells Creators. "When I was laying on the surgery bed, I became the felted animals I used to make when I was a kid."
This experience forms the basis of Wang's Boobroom, an installation of drawing, painting, and sculpture at StARTup Art Fair in San Francisco, in which 54 independent artists exhibit work in the rooms and spaces of Hotel Del Sol.
The cotton candy sculptures that dominate Boobroom are deceptively precious—that is, until Wang draws parallels between the frenetic, subjectively violent, and stabby process of needlepoint felting and the hidden physical and psychological violence involved in her own plastic surgery and surgeries she has felt pressured to undergo.
"I used this as a response to the fashion of doing plastic surgery in China right now," Wang tells Creators. "Because in China people are calling flat-chested women 'airport'… People tell me 'you should get plastic surgery to make your boobs normal.'"
Gesturing to a pair of giant boob sculptures perched on two beds, Wang laughs, "I have huge boobs now! They might look cute and fluffy but they are borne out of violence. Of a needle penetrating through the felt."
While Wang argues that popular cosmetic surgeries influenced by Western beauty standards threaten the diversity and the emotional well-being of Asian societies, she remains ambivalent about her own choice to receive the world's third most popular cosmetic surgery in 2016.
"It's mixed feeling," Wang tells Creators. "On one hand I feel, yeah I've finally become what I wished to be when I was a kid, but then I feel like it's kind of the opposite of what I believe. It's just a constant struggle of mine."
Wang describes feeling bombarded by the commodification of not only women's bodies, but men's bodies, and just about everything else.
"If you have money, you can get whatever appearance you want," Wang says. "People are just getting really superficial and they think money can buy every kind of appearance and good appearances can give them more money, so it's an endless circle."
In her Mask series, Wang deals with the gendered beauty standards at the opposite end of the spectrum. Two works from the series are tucked in amid Boobroom's gynic energy, and in them, velvety graphite drawings of monkey-headed male bodies, peer out at the viewer from masked black sockets.
"In China if we want to describe what men should be like, we use the word shòuxìng, which means animalistic, and when we are talking about those animalistic qualities, we are thinking about tigers, wolves… so I'm using a skinny figure and a monkey mask to question that gender norm," Wang tells Creators. "It's like society is pushing you to select a mask, and you wear it, and you behave in certain ways in order to please other people."
Unable to install the recorded sound of felting in time for StARTup, which when amplified through a speaker creates a jarring and deliberative scraping sound, Wang says the installation didn't convey the element of violence as directly as she wanted. She plans to flesh out these darker themes more directly in future works.
"I definitely want to expand on it," Wang says. "There are still a lot of women being called 'airport' in China."
More of Wang's work can be found on her website.