If you have to go to hell, Chinese hell seems like the place to visit. After your judgement, you are reincarnated and leave through one of six doors depending on your earthly sins. Reflecting on Chinese hell and their shared cultural heritage, Jessica Bradford and Louise Zhang collaborate in a playful exhibition that interrogates personal histories and the traditions that have shaped them.
Fusing both artists’ distinct styles, works portray hellscapes and macabre themes through painting, installation and video. Gestural abstraction blends with “pastel coloured, pop-like, almost cartoonish images” as Bradford describes, while “fragments and motifs” from their shared culture “come together in compositions”. Showing together for the first time, the artists have met regularly since early 2022: “We talk a lot!” Zhang reveals. “Just having someone to address how you feel about aspects of your culture, that is the joy in this collaboration.”
But don’t expect blazing Christian hellscapes and a horned devil. Cultures collide in this Chinese hell, a sentiment that resonates with both artists. “Transculturation is an important connection and point of focus for both of us,” Zhang explains. “The show interprets cultural influences from our upbringing by exploring different versions of Chinese hell.” Bradford draws upon her childhood visits to Singapore’s Haw Par Villa while Zhang explores the various religious influences she grew up with.
For both, it’s a journey to understand their cultural heritage and to confront their multicultural identities. Bradford observes, “I think it’s a similar story with a lot of artists in Australia with a mixed cultural heritage, you are constantly trying to figure out how you relate to the larger culture, and where your place is in it.” Zhang adds that it’s “a reflection of how hell fits into our personal lives but also an opportunity to share the story of Chinese hell.”
This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 print edition of Art Guide Australia.
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