Calla Chan is an artist from Hong Kong working in digital media, painting, and drawing. She intends to graduate from Bowdoin College ’21 with a BA in Environmental Studies and Visual Arts. Her artistic practice focuses on the visualisation of ecofeminism. With a love for nature and art, she has continued to navigate different avenues of expressing the human relationship to nature. In exploring the intersections of science and art, she has also discovered a new passion for digital media where she overlays her paintings and photographs with digital drawings.
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My most recent work explores the visual representation of ecofeminism. Some of my pieces are purely watercolour on paper, and others are digital drawings over photographs of my watercolour paintings or photographs I took of nature—combining traditional to contemporary methods of art. By working with watercolour, I am able to understand the limitations past female artists had when working in this medium, and by working with digital media, I am able to explore a future of sustainable studio art.
In my work, I seek to investigate the intrinsic relationship between nature and the female body. I was captivated with Maria Sybilla Merian’s scientific studies of florae in the late 17th century and how she captures the metamorphosis of plants. I was also deeply inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s floral paintings and intrigued by critics linking her work to female genitalia. In life, we subconsciously anthropomorphize the unknown in order to understand and relate to them. Through my art, I want to address parallels between the beauty of nature and the female body while simultaneously reclaiming the connection that women have to the earth. My work seeks to visually reveal the underlying relationship between nature and the female body.
Both nature and women’s bodies, so often violated and neglected, are illuminated for their shared strength and resilience in Calla Chan’s recent work. Chan begins by painting flowers with watercolor on paper, allowing petals to sweep across the page and grow into the space that they require. After documenting the finished watercolors or photographing the natural world around her, Chan digitally layers minimalistic tracings of women’s bodies on top of each flower and natural scene, finding and illustrating the organic patterns between imagined bodies and nature. The petal of an iris echoes the curve of a woman’s back or the profile of a head; and a lily’s leaf takes the shape of a woman’s legs. Each piece is delicate, gentle, and soft while also asserting power – a reclamation of both nature and women’s own bodies.
Chan’s eco feminist ideals ground and drive her work. She compels the viewer to slow down, follow their curiosity, and spend time searching for the tangible and intangible parallels between femininity and the environment. Chan’s own exploration of these parallels is clear with her pursuit of environmental justice in both content and the art-making process, constantly searching to make her practice more sustainable. Chan cites Georgia O’Keeffe’s exquisite floral paintings as inspiration; however, while O’Keeffe is adamant that her flowers are not meant to symbolize women’s genitalia, I appreciate that Chan is direct in the explicit connection between her flowers and women’s bodies.
–Bianca Allende Boyd