Tidawhitney Lek

Tidawhitney Lek (b. 1992, lives and works in Long Beach) is a Cambodian-American painter. Her work plays with narrative and the Asian experiences of first-generation Americans. She received a BFA from Cal State University of Long Beach (2017). Her work has been exhibited at Taymour Grahne Projects (London, UK), Luna Anais Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), Long Beach Museum of Art (Long Beach, CA), and more.

THAT: Tell us about your practice.
TL: My practice is based on painting and it plays with traditional and conventional mediums like pastel, acrylic, and oil paints on canvas. The textures interchange as pictorial spaces recede and soften, and narratives take shape in composition to light, landscape, and the figure(s).

THAT: Your work is steeped in familial narratives, can you talk about your approach towards the narratives in your work?
TL: When I began building these narratives I started with the context of home, a place I knew best which then evolved into the people who occupied it. The narratives are relative to my own experiences growing up as a female Cambodian-American in Southern California. It’s a mixer of past nostalgia by mundane objects and history juxtaposed against the architectural space of a home.  

THAT: In this current show, "House Hold", fear, anxiety, and undertones of violence seem to lurk in a space that is perceived to be safe, like home. Can you tell us about that?
TL: Yes, the undertone of violence stems from this concept of intergenerational trauma, when a generation inherits another’s tribulation by the effects of a historical event. In this case, my parents suffered greatly under the mass genocide of the Khmer Regime in their home country of Cambodia, just after the Vietnam War ended. They’ve moved on but never forgot the horror of those events. So lurked this violence that I grew up with and it was expressed in different ways. I could not fathom why at first but learned as I took a closer look into the past.

THAT: Your work centers on spaces like home, but where one might see that as an enclosed space nature seems to have a real presence in your works. Can you talk a little bit about how that plays into your work? 
TL: The presence of nature pertains to a space that is occupied by another beauty of life, that there is more than just the facade and what holds it, but everything else around it too that lives between concrete cracks and iron gates. That there is an appreciation for it, the way trees give shade, others grow fruit, a symbiosis of being together even when apart.  

THAT: Birds and flowers seem to be particular motifs that come up. You’ve mentioned how your color choices allude to a specific time of day (sunrises or sunsets, in particular). Why then?
TL: They are specific to the nostalgias that I’m conjuring and roses became a motif to decorate as well as symbolize this other place or living creature that exists in it. The birds' stand in for a figure at times, it's another character sharing or occupying the same space as well. As for the palette, sunsets and sunrise offer this drastic array of colors with light that I enjoy playing with. Part of my exploration of these paintings is that I shapeshifted those color and light expressions to fit into the compositional spaces that I’ve molded and carved out into these narratives.

THAT: What has been inspiring you lately? 
TL: Currently, my mind has been thinking about motherhood. I’m not a mother but I have one, and I’m surrounded by so many. I am a woman and my thoughts go there at times. There’s plenty there to discuss and I’m interested in observing what that complexity means to me and others. 

THAT: What's next for you?
TL: Soon after the opening for House Hold with Sow & Tailor in LA, there’s also a group show curated by Jack Siebert and Caio Twombly called, “I do my own stunts” at Spazio Amanita in Hollywood.


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