Jingyi Wang, Natural Social Distancing @ Four You Gallery (Dubai, UAE)
Online exhibition, April 2021 – ongoing
Cacti are hearty plants whose reputation precedes them. No matter what climate one lives in, it’s likely that a person is aware of these spiny succulents – the “look, don’t touch” decor of the desert. Artist Jingyi Wang (she/her, b. China, 1989) presents the familiar cactus in an unfamiliar and very meaningful way in her solo show “Natural Social Distancing,” currently on view online via Four You Gallery in Dubai. Featuring over twenty detailed oil paintings, Wang’s work hones in on the relationship between human beings and the natural world while layering in current themes of social distancing and the emotions being collectively experienced as humanity endures the ongoing global pandemic. Using color schemes packed with saturated and pastel tones spanning the entire spectrum, these paintings may at first seem whimsical, but soon reveal a depth that draws in viewers and inspires powerful reflection.
When viewing the work in its complete installation, Wang’s passion and talent are immediately obvious. The walls are covered with bright, surrealist scenes of cacti-people in loud patterned clothing, with vibrant multicolored hair of desert flowers. Among the anthropomorphic cacti, viewers will also find deflating inflatable globes, icy blue mountain peaks, and foil balloon unicorns. All cactus figures are roughly life-sized, and the majority of canvases are over 60 centimeters (24 in) in their smallest dimension.
One piece, titled “Look,” (oil on canvas, 122×101.6 cm or 48×40 in), features one such figure, wearing a cerulean collared shirt accented with pink daisies and green leaves. In the background is a muted beige desert scene with a sprawling and empty sky, bringing even more emphasis to the intense color of the figure in the foreground. The title references the chic look of this character – very hip, very millennial fashion choices – but also references the action both the subject and the viewer are engaged in – looking, locked in an uncanny stare. Looking is the only thing that can or will ever take place here; the obvious barrier that this plant-person has built in, the spines that cover their form, remind us of the less obvious barriers that exist between people and keep us from connecting. All thoughts and feelings we may form about one another in this moment of looking culminate in eventually realizing we can never actually touch without the serious potential for harm.
Our current reality is one of exactly that – invisible pathogens have interrupted our typical engagement with one another, and social distancing has become the new way of life. The cacti in Wang’s paintings are a picturesque representation of the complexity of the current moment, offering a chance to reflect on the changes we have experienced in a way that highlights the beauty without ignoring the pain.
Open since April 2021, Jingyi Wang’s work, installation views, and artist statement are featured in an online exhibition available for viewing at fouryougallery.com/jingyi-wang-natural-social-distancing/. For more information about the artist, visit her website at jingyiwangart.com.
Review by Lauren Manning
Photo courtesy of Jingyi Wang