Andrea Chung is an American artist born in Newark, New Jersey and currently working in San Diego as a mixed-media conceptual artist, whose work encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, and installations. She explores colonial and post-colonial systems, migration patterns, and the presence of multiple mother cultures in the Caribbean. She draws connections between her ancestry and those who experienced colonial exploitation.
Raised in Texas, her parents were of Trinidadian and Jamaican-Chinese descent. She graduated with a B.F.A. from Parsons School of Design and received her M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2008. She is influenced by her multicultural upbringing and her family’s Caribbean heritage as she explores the shared histories of people of Chinese and African descent in the Caribbean diaspora.
Often using ephemeral materials such as sugar or soap in her sculptures and installations, her work often deals with the effects of colonialism on island nations – especially Jamaica, Trinidad, and the Mauritius, which were sugar colonies of England. She incorporates materials significant to the cultures and people she depicts, creating a connection between her media and the message she conveys.
According to Chung, all of her work started with her Caribbean grandmother whose Chinese husband abandoned her, leaving her alone in Trinidad with nine children to support. Her grandmother became a midwife, which was thought of as a ‘dirty’ profession. To pay homage to her grandmother Chung created pulp sculptures depicting hands of midwives in the ‘baby-catching’ position and has sculpted hands out of soap.
At the California African American Museum, her installation “Sink & Swim” lies on the floor with bottles hanging down over what looks like islands floating on a white sea. This piece references a method of fishing where glass bottles are used. This was a practice passed down by generations of Mauritian fishermen once the British abolished slavery there in 1835. The newly freed Creoles preferred to become fishermen rather than work in the sugar cane fields as before. This led to overfishing, causing the fishing trade to disappear. Instead of working with actual glass, Chung makes liquor bottles out of sugar, reflecting on sugar’s ephemeral nature and its role in the legacy of slavery. As the bottles melt, they mirror the vanishing of a community and its means of survival.
Some of Chung’s work references the sea and island life. Her work “Anthropocene” is a series of large-scale cyanotype prints of a beautiful but deadly fish: the lionfish. The term ‘anthropocene’ describes how people have altered their environment by introducing invasive plants and animals with no natural predators into their natural world. Her work is a meditation on migration and human intervention into nature. The lion fish was brought to the West for the aquarium trade and has taken over its new natural habitat. She states how she is exploring the “beautiful and seductive image of the fish.” While the lion fish is beautiful, it is highly poisonous. So while her work “Anthropocene” is stunningly beautiful with its deep, rich blues and graceful swimming fish, there is something sinister under the surface of the waters. She uses this animal to talk about colonialism. The lion fish is seductive and poisonous,just like the beauty of colonialism: beautiful but deadly.
Chung won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Mauritius. She was admitted to the Joan Mitchell Artistists-in-Residence program and has won an Art Matters grant. Her work has been exhibited at the San Diego Art Institute and in Los Angeles at the Chinese American Museum and California African American Museum. In 2017, she had her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego: “You broke the ocean in half to be here”.