An Yan Saint Maison Interview.jpg

INTERVIEW WITH AN YAN

A conversation about identity, life culture, and North Korea with a Chinese female artist, An Yan.

the interview was done on

04 July 2020

S.M

"Where are you from?"

A.Y

"I’m from Beijing"

S.M

"What brought you to the UK?"

A.Y

"My parents enrolled me into a boarding school in the outskirts of London when I was 11."

S.M

"You've been in the UK for over a decade now. Were you into painting from a young age?"

A.Y

"I had very minimum education on contemporary art until I was maybe 17, and it actually wasn’t until I entered university when I started to experiment with painting."

S.M

"Since the beginning of your contemporary art education, was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as an artist?"

A.Y

"At the beginning of it I was very confused by the raw studio environment, and everyone seemed to be determined in pursuing a serious career in art. But as time passed, many had changed their minds. Personally, I didn’t get affected by external factors. So rather than a pivotal moment, it’s more like a decision determined gradually through time"

S.M

"I see...Would you say that it was natural for you to pursue art"

A.Y

"Yes it was natural, there are just so many questions to be answered through art. Being an artist offers a different set of possibilities one doesn’t see in other industries"

S.M

"Would you say that being an artist is advantageous due to those possibilities?"

A.Y

"Dude...It depends on your philosophy of life. And also the artist’s job is to show the rest of the world what’s not obvious yet. So the artist doesn’t benefit from their art as much as the world. But for the majority of the artists, financial situations could be a disadvantage compared to other jobs."

S.M

"Tell us a little bit about your life. What is it like to be a Chinese female artist living in London"

A.Y

"A Chinese female artist often would have her community made up of other Chinese female artists. I enjoy conversations with my peers as much as karaoke and homemade dinners with them. Even though I spend most of my time being a hermit at my studio which is currently the living room."

S.M

"I remember you saying that you just wanted to paint all day every day. Tell us a bit about your work. Your work has lots of Chinese references, antiques and white cabbages. Where is this coming from?"

A.Y

"My multi-disciplinary practice has a strong grasp on cultural relativity with East Asia and critique on present day China. Some of these areas of research traces back to my fight against white supremacy since the first day I was thrown into a white-dominant school, and my heavy emphasis on Asian culture comes from a fight against erasure and amnesia that all immigrants face when they immigrate into Western countries. The repetitive occurrence of the jade cabbage in my paintings is an analogy I developed for marginalized female groups living in China."

S.M

"Did you have any problems with your sense of identity?"

A.Y

"Yes, all the time growing up. I was very confused by the sudden shift of environment, from the lively streets of east Beijing to the suburbs of London. It was like...The culture that I was familiar with was stripped away from me. I didn’t fit in for a long time, now that I look at it, it simply just meant that the young me valued Asian cultures more than Western cultures"

S.M

"You seem to travel a lot, throwing yourself into many other cultures. Tell us a little bit about your journeys so far."

A.Y

"My most recent journey to Krabi in Thailand started two days after Covid-19 went out of control in Mainland China. The decision to go there was purely for the sake of celebrating Chinese New Year after a grim winter in the UK. It was a very strange time to be traveling. The lockdown in London happened soon after I came back, and it’s been 4 months of travel restriction since then."

S.M

"Heard you went to North Korea a few years ago. What was that like?"

A.Y

"I have always held a strong interest in North Korea's history and aesthetic. Back then I thought this curiosity derived from growing up in a Socialist capital as a child, therefore growing some sort of resonance to the North Korean system and Pyongyang as a city that echoed Beijing in the years prior to my birth. "

S.M

"Did this rare experience inspire you in any way?"

A.Y

"The young women there were always interested in talking to me, mostly when no men are around (interesting no?) it was obvious that they wanted to know more about international popular cultures like fashion and music. However the concept of contemporary art had not penetrated the general public there, but to me, the city itself was a brilliant conceptual piece."

S.M

"Wow...really hard to imagine living in such an art-rich city. This year has been pretty strange: Australian bush fire, Covid-19, and the Black Lives Matter movement. In China, is racial discrimination an ongoing issue? Tell us about your experience as a Chinese artist participating in the BLM demo."

A.Y

"Unfortunately it is. I am terribly grossed out by racial discrimination anywhere in the world like any other normal human being. It is important for a multi-ethnic country like China to realize that the Han ethnicity does not mean supremacy and all culture needs to be respected, and to understand that all people of color have to stand together in the fight to dismantle white supremacy, rather than hurting each other. My participation in the BLM protests are statements to show solidarity."

S.M

"Last question. Out of the blues, we heard you recently adopted a tiger!?"

A.Y

"The adoption came out of a wish to help smaller zoos look after their animals, even though they should not have been locked up there in the first place. I chose a tiger because it matches my Chinese zodiac sign, but I will continue to help other animals too with no prejudice. My mum saw it from a Buddhist perspective of “blessings are the accumulated result of good deeds”, which is a philosophy that I respect and practice."

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