Andrea Chung’s Ornate Collages Defy the Colonial Gaze by Celebrating Black Women’s Friendships

Mixed-media artist is known for her subversive use of materials produced by European colonialism. She experiments with many different creative methods to address the pervasive legacy of imperialism and critique its violent structure. In her research-based practice, Chung mines colonial archives to give voice and power to those who have historically been oppressed and silenced. As the daughter of West Indian immigrants to the United States, she often considers her own African and Asian heritage in this artistic process.
We Was Girls Together,” Chung’s current solo exhibition at Tyler Park Presents in Los Angeles, continues the theme of defying the colonial gaze by centering on kinship and friendship between Black women. On view through October 30th, the show debuts a new series of work: large-scale collages featuring reproductions of ethnographic photographs of African women. In the spirit of Black women’s collaborations, the exhibition also includes the video installation The Water Between Us Remembers… (2018) by New Jersey–based multimedia artist . The title of the show draws on a line from Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel Sula, in which the title character creates choice from choicelessness. By titling each of her collages Sula Never Competed; She Simply Helped Others Define Themselves, Chung draws upon the novel’s theme of nurturing and mentorship, specifically as it relates to Black women’s femininity and relationships with one another.
Chung remixes the archival portraits she gathers by adorning them with intricate beadwork that holds ceremonial significance to the Black diaspora. She delicately reframes the photographed women with tropical flowers, leaves, cowrie shells, rhinestones, and gold ink on handmade paper. Through these embellishments, the artist forms a critique to undo the colonial violence of the ethnographer’s camera. Chung homes in on Black feminine collective power and anoints the women, allowing them to stare back and claim the consent likely taken from them by the European photographer.
Chung’s collages have circulated beyond the art world in ways that exceed the ornamental. They have been featured on television: At the 2021 Oscars, Questlove, the ceremony’s musical director, showcased a custom-made laptop case by Chung. In addition, the cover of poet Desiree C. Bailey’s What Noise Against the Cane—a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Poetry—features Chung’s collages from this series.
In the past, Chung has dedicated her artwork to her grandmothers and to the traditions of Black midwives in the Caribbean and the American South. Black women’s labor and the materiality of colonial extraction are central to Chung’s intersectional aesthetic. Here, Chung frames the exhibition with a poetic dedication and presents the collages as an offering, a gift to Black women in the arts. The refrain “To the black women” resounds as she celebrates the individuals who have influenced and inspired her creative process—whether she knows them intimately or not.
Chung’s roll call of Black women’s names is in the vein of scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw’s #SayHerName movement and anthropologist Christen A. Smith’s #CiteBlackWomen campaign. From Beyoncé to art historians Krista Thompson and Kellie Jones to artists and , Chung honors Black women for their art and art criticism. Subverting the way wealthy donors’ names are listed on museum lobby walls, the show is a ring shout of call-and-response for Black women across the diaspora supporting each other, despite often being pitted against one another.
Tao Leigh Goffe