What does it mean to be a woman, othered? Through an expansive collection of work that often shocks our conventional perception of classical portraiture, and subverting artistic norms within their Westernised contexts – Amanda Ba submerges us into the world of the unabashed woman. Embodying her own queer, Asian American identity; growing up in both Columbus (United States), and Hefei (China), she utilises literary, theoretical ideas, manifesting them within her visceral paintings of the Asian, female, form – naked, unapologetic and undoubtedly captivating. She provides us with an insight into what it truly means to subvert tradition, and break free from dehumanisation, displayed through a lens of abnormality.
For starters, could you briefly introduce us to both you as an artist, and your work?
Hi, I’m Amanda Ba. I’m a painter who currently lives and works out of Brooklyn, New York City. I was born in Columbus, Ohio, but spent the first 5 years of my life living in Hefei with my grandparents. Diasporic identity is central to my work – vivid paintings that combine personal memory with psychosexual fantasy and are populated with figures that challenge a predominantly white Western canon of figurative painting. My work is also born out of an interest in critical race and queer theory, which help to situate my identity within nuanced frameworks of hybridity, Otherness and Chineseness.
You produced your first solo exhibition, The Incorrigible Giantess, where we see a character called the Giantesses: depicted as imposing women, dominant in their surroundings, and indifferent to their exposed bodies. What do they symbolise to you? Is it a singular idea transgressed through the works, or an amalgamation of wider symbols?
The Giantess was the starting point for the exhibition, and I saw the concept as the crux of a larger rhizome of ideas. The idea of Giantesses opened up discussions about mythology, monstrosity, historicity, Otherness, transgression, and queer politics. So each painting in the show draws from at least one of these ideas, portrayed through the image of the Giantess. For example, the biggest piece in the show, Titanomachia, was inspired by Greco-Roman founding myths of titans and giants. It also references both Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and Leon Golub’s paintings of giants fighting in its long, frieze-like dimensions, and incorporates dogs fighting large Asian women in a barren, primordial landscape to explore post-human debates on racial politics.
Amanda Ba Metalmagazine 4.jpg
I see that your paintings are arguably audacious in their sexual themes. What role do sexual transgression and the explicit play within the show?
I’ve always painted nude women that are unabashed, and I think it’s about pushing against the trope of the obedient, hyperfeminine and conservative Asian woman. I try to paint the figures in such a way that even while behaving sexually, it is difficult to project lust upon them. They are often slightly grotesque with blocky bodies and detached expressions. I like to imagine that for them, nudity and autonomy are simply matter-of-fact, so obvious that it hardly warrants consideration.
Do you think that there is a certain element of ‘shock factor’ that is necessary when exhibiting work that publicly subverts the traditional standards of portraiture?
I think it’s not a matter of if there is or isn’t a shock factor, but a shock to ‘whom.’ Things that are an everyday experience for certain marginalised communities can be a shock to white people. Gay stuff can be a shock to straight people. I think a lot of contemporary figure painters who are trying to push against a White Art World and a White Art History or even a White World are painting things that are a very familiar experience to themselves, but when shown to a normative audience, will seem ‘brave’ or ‘hypersexual’ or ‘transgressive.’ Of course, we intend to have some of that effect, but it’s a balancing game because we don’t want to make tacky political work. But it seems that maybe the ‘shock’ comes from the notion that young, marginalised people being successful artists is already new and shocking enough. We just make the work we want to make.
I see you’ve named Michel Foucault as the inspiration for the title and the exhibition itself, what specific elements did you adapt from his work, and how did you think to adapt it in your own expressive terms?
I was particularly interested in Foucault’s 1975 lectures on the Abnormal when doing research for my exhibition because in it he gives a very interesting chronology of monstrosity, sexual deviance, and jurisdictional punishment. He basically outlines how monstrosity went from a more ancient conception of monsters that were hybrid animals, to being a matter of sexual hybrids (hermaphrodites), and then to legal matters of queerness and grandness. To be a monster – an Incorrigible – is to be a Giantess.
Amanda Ba Metalmagazine 9.jpg
You seem to be very interested in literary critical theory. Is there a reason you chose to transcend written theory into the visual, aesthetic medium?
I find that theory really helps me generate images for my work. I’m actually not that imaginative of a person – I have a hard come just coming up with fantastical ideas for paintings. Instead, I read to help me better ground the conception of my own identity, and the reading always inspires various visual metaphors.
Do you think that recognising intersectionality is an important factor when appreciating the message of The Incorrigible Giantess, or do you think it could potentially also embody more of a subjective, general interpretation of female sexuality?
I think intersectionality is imperative to the paintings I make. Second-wave feminism is dead. I’m trying to avoid all of the ‘this female Asian painter explores the corporeal condition of the woman’ type headlines.
Are there any specific painters, or other mediums of art and literature in general that have influenced your work and its subjects?
I love Lisa Yuskavage and Kerry James Marshall. I always look at them. And my friends who are also painters are everyday inspirations. I’ve been watching more Chinese documentary films lately because I want to start making videos soon. I also bought a couple of Cassandra readers from the Art Book Fair recently and those are really cool.
Amanda Ba Metalmagazine 10.jpg
What does your artistic process look like? Do you begin with a certain symbol or ideological idea, or do you work from a visual prompt?
I always try to accomplish two things within a new painting: trying out a new technique (like making a more complex composition or using a new colour), and interpreting whatever I am reading/learning about at that time. I do a lot of research for my paintings, and the idea usually starts there. But then when it comes time to decide what the painting will actually look like, I’m trying to come up with new and interesting ways to actually paint.
What did the opportunity of having your own solo show, represent/mean to you as an artist?
It gave me the time to work on a large body of work over a long period of time, and really express an idea. It’s like an album instead of an EP for a musician or a book instead of essays for an author. It really pushes you, and teaches you a lot about a sustainable work schedule and staying focused. 
Have you plans to develop or display your art in the near future? What would your ideal progression be as an artist?
Yes, I have a couple of solo shows coming up. I want to start working in video and installation and have shows that combine paintings with other multimedia elements. My ideal progression would be to just keep having the opportunities to do exactly the kind of shows that I want to do and to reach a wider audience.
Amanda Ba Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Amanda Ba Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Amanda Ba Metalmagazine 8.jpg
Amanda Ba Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Amanda Ba Metalmagazine 11.jpg