Suelyn Choo is a multidisciplinary artist whose creative repertoire encompasses a range of mediums including painting, photography, makeup artistry, fashion design, and dance. In her works she explores the domains of self-expression and cultural identity.
In her most recent work, the dance performance, Paria’s Pearl, Suelyn Choo explores the experience of her Chinese family’s migration and assimilation through dance, makeup and clothing. Opening the performance, Suelyn Choo applies makeup inspired by traditions dating back to the Tang dynasty.
“I dust my cheeks red to emphasize the natural roundness of my face – a feature I was always self-conscious of as a teenager. I longed for sculpted cheekbones, just as I longed for double eyelids and a more defined nose bridge. During my adolescence, I relied on makeup to sculpt my face, striving to mold it into something it wasn’t. However, as I ventured into the world of make-up and masking traditions in different cultures, I discovered that make-up can serve as more than just a tool for alterations; it became the canvas upon which I craft my identity. Make-up and masking allows me to transcend human limitations and morph into something otherworldly – even a dragon.” – Suelyn Choo
As part of the performance she wears a hanfu – a traditional Chinese dress.
“The sleeves and the train represent the land and generational trauma my Chinese immigrant family has carried with them from Guangdong. It is graceful yet cumbersome as I dance in the garment.” – Suelyn Choo
Beneath the hanfu, Suelyn Choo dons a dragon costume that draws inspiration from Trinidadian Traditional Dragon Mas, a performance typically practiced during Trinidad Carnival. In this cultural tradition the Mas character is characterized by an aversion to water, frequently depicted as evading bodies of water, leaping, and skittering away from its own reflection. In Paria’s Pearl, Suelyn Choo incorporates elements from Chinese mythology, where dragons symbolize mastery over water, rain, and rivers. In her story, the dragon undergoes a remarkable transformation, becoming the very element it once feared, symbolizing the amalgamation of her two distinct cultural narratives.
Suelyn Choo continues her dedicated exploration of identity and societal representation through the medium of painting. She delves deeper into traditions of makeup in her artworks Yuh watching the mirror or yuh watching yuh self (2020) and Shadow Palette (2021), which challenges the significance of the seemingly mundane ritual of preparing oneself for public presentation. Suelyn Choo questions whether makeup serves as a reconciliatory mask, a revelation of one’s inner essence, or perhaps something entirely distinct—a moment suspended between dressing and undressing, a liminal space where the truth of human behavior is unveiled.
Suelyn Choo’s bares her own revelations in her paintings, prompting her audience to contemplate the layers we all wear –both literally and metaphorically.
In Clear Waters Hold No Shadows (2021) she relates an unexpected moment of self-discovery. As she one day gazed into the murky waters of her parents’ backyard pond, she realized, “I can never see my whole self like someone else can.” It was a poignant revelation that stirred her curiosity about the rudimentary tools of self-reflection employed by humanity from days long passed. She imagined her ancestors using the natural world as their mirrors, gazing into murky waters just like the pond before her, and contemplated how this limited form of self-examination must have shaped a the collective self-perception that resonated within society.
Two noteworthy paintings from 2020, Carib, a Man’s Beer and Deal, emerged from croquis sessions featuring male figures. Post croquis session, Suelyn Choo painted these figures into the context of a “post-work lime” – a Trinidadian term referring to a casual gathering or hangout with friends, involving drinks, smoking, small talk, and a few rounds of cards. Through the series, Suelyn Choo delves into the themes of masculinity and the dynamics of male relationships within Trinidadian culture
Born in 1994, Santa Cruz, Trinidad and Tobago.
Currently lives and works in Kingston, Jamaica.
“Whether through painting, photography, makeup, fashion or dance, my work explores the presentation of the self in private and public spaces. My art is one of testimony, witness and lived experience. All my work — whether my painting practice, performance, bodily ornamentation, creative direction and styling — transforms private, intimate conversations I have with my subconscious into public display. I am invested in the interplay between solitude and the social; the performance and mirroring that occurs when you share a space with others, leaving the private to enter the public, leaving the public to return to the private. I am interested in the ways the public intrudes, corrodes and impacts the private self. My work argues that once you’ve interacted with others, you can never be the same[…] Exploring these transient states, of being but not fully whole, like adornment, reflections, shadows, emotions or spectres. My work aims to capture or document the ephemeral, to bear witness and share them.” – Suelyn Choo
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