Los Angeles-based artist Tidawhitney Lek makes multidimensional paintings in acrylic, oil, and pastel. A figurative artist, Lek focuses on intimate scenes of family life. She paints from family photographs, using layers to build meaning in family narratives. She bridges time in collage-like compositions, referencing family history and memory.
Lek is a first-generation American born to immigrant parents from Cambodia. She decided early on in high school that she wanted to be a master painter even though that was not the profession an immigrant Asian family would choose for one of their children. However, she committed herself to becoming an artist and graduated with a B.F.A. in Drawing and Painting from the University of Long Beach in 2017.
Lek’s paintings are partially inspired by Italian frescoes and consist of layers of oil, pastels, and acrylics. She often applies paint to raw canvas, and her finished works take on varying textures. She paints family members in domestic settings in her unique interpretation of home, place, and environment. There are some specific references from Cambodian history and culture which become grounding points in her work. For example, her figures are often dressed in traditional Khmer garb while placed in a typical American setting containing mundane household items.
Violence is implied in her work because Lek wants to reveal the underlying generational trauma and perspective of Cambodian American life. One of the ways she does this is to incorporate disembodied body parts, most especially disembodied hands. The hands represent invisible forces and undertones of violence stemming from the trauma of escaping from the Khmer Rouge. Hands are seen emerging from bushes, holding on to doorways, coming out of a table, or peeking out from a closet. Eyes can be seen staring at a viewer as a reflection on a butcher knife. Guns are also present, and female figures carry knives.
In 2019 with artist Juliana Bustillo, Lek completed the mural, “Beyond” in Long Beach, California. The mural portrays the landscape and lifestyle of an older generation of Cambodian Americans as it shows Cambodian farmers riding their cattle into a river in a flowered landscape.
Lek was a 2020 finalist for the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs public arts commission. She has been included in group exhibitions at Santa Barbara’s Museum of Contemporary Art. She was in a two-person exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art. Her work will be shown in New York City’s Armory Show and is in the permanent collection of the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami.