Issue 35 February 2024

Issue 34 November 2023

Issue 33 August 2023

Issue 32 June 2023

Issue 31 February 2023

Issue 30 November 2022

Issue 29 August 2022

Issue 28 May 2022

Issue 27 February 2022

Issue 26 November 2021

Issue 25 August 2021

Issue 24 May 2021

Issue 23 February 2021

Issue 22 November 2020

Issue 21 August 2020

Issue 20 May 2020

Issue 19 February 2020

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
Parasites in Love –Travis Diehl
To Crush Absolute On Patrick Staff and
Destroying the Institution
–Jonathan Griffin
Victoria Fu:
Camera Obscured
–Cat Kron
Resurgence of Resistance How Pattern & Decoration's Popularity
Can Help Reshape the Canon
–Catherine Wagley
Trace, Place, Politics Julie Mehretu's Coded Abstractions
–Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.: Featuring: Friedrich Kunath,
Tristan Unrau, and Nevine Mahmoud
–Claressinka Anderson & Joe Pugliese
Reviews April Street
at Vielmetter Los Angeles
–Aaron Horst

Chiraag Bhakta
at Human Resources
–Julie Weitz

Don’t Think: Tom, Joe
and Rick Potts

–Matt Stromberg

Sarah McMenimen
at Garden
–Michael Wright

The Medea Insurrection
at the Wende Museum
–Jennifer Remenchik

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Mike Kelley
at Hauser & Wirth
–Angella d’Avignon
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Issue 18 November 2019

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Children of the Sun
– Jessica Simmons

Derek Paul Jack Boyle
–Aaron Horst

Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
–Lee Purvey

Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
–Ashton Cooper

Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
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Issue 17 August 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
–Jonathan Griffin
Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
–Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Donna Huanca
–Lindsy Preston Zappas
Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
and Bari Ziperstein
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Sarah Lucas
at the Hammer Museum
–Yxta Maya Murray

George Herms and Terence Koh
at Morán Morán
–Matt Stromberg

Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
–Michael Wright

Sebastian Hernandez
–Julie Weitz

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

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Issue 16 May 2019

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
Exquisite L.A. Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Ry Rocklen
at Honor Fraser
–Cat Kron

Rob Thom
at M+B
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
at The Broad
–Matt Stromberg

Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
–Aaron Horst

Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
–Christie Hayden
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Issue 15 February 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Rosha Yaghmai
Laura Brown
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Patrick Martinez,
Ramiro Gomez, and John Valadez
Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Outliers and American
Vanguard Art at LACMA
–Jonathan Griffin

Sperm Cult
–Matt Stromberg

Kahlil Joseph
–Jessica Simmons

Ingrid Luche
at Ghebaly Gallery
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Matt Paweski
at Park View / Paul Soto
–John Zane Zappas

Trenton Doyle Hancock
at Shulamit Nazarian
–Colony Little

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Catherine Opie
at Lehmann Maupin
–Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 14 November 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Figurative Religion Catherine Wagley
Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
Interview with Kulapat Yantrasast Christie Hayden
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Sandra de la Loza, Gloria Galvez, and Steve Wong
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews Raúl de Nieves
at Freedman Fitzpatrick
-Aaron Horst

Gertrud Parker
at Parker Gallery
-Ashton Cooper

Robert Yarber
at Nicodim Gallery
-Jonathan Griffin

Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
-Simone Krug

Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
-Matt Stromberg

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Eckhaus Latta
at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
-Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 13 August 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
–Thomas Duncan

Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
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Issue 12 May 2018

Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with Christina Quarles Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
- Matt Stromberg

iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
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Issue 11 February 2018

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
- Lindsay Preston Zappas

Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
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Issue 10 November 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 9 August 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects


Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Issue 8 May 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter to the Editor
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop

Issue 7 February 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
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Issue 6 November 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
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Issue 5 August 2016

Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Exquisite L.A.
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
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Issue 4 May 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 3 February 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
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Issue 2 November 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
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Issue 1 August 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
Mateo Tannatt
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop
1301 PE
Anat Ebgi (La Cienega)
Anat Ebgi (Wilshire)
Arcana Books
Artbook @ Hauser & Wirth
Babst Gallery
Baert Gallery
Bel Ami
Canary Test
Carlye Packer
Charlie James Gallery
Château Shatto
Chris Sharp Gallery
Cirrus Gallery
Clay ca
Commonwealth & Council
Craft Contemporary
D2 Art (Inglewood)
D2 Art (Westwood)
David Kordansky Gallery
David Zwirner
Diane Rosenstein
François Ghebaly
Gana Art Los Angeles
George Billis Gallery
Giovanni's Room
Hamzianpour & Kia
Hannah Hoffman Gallery
Harper's Gallery
Hashimoto Contemporary
Heavy Manners Library
Helen J Gallery
Human Resources
Hunter Shaw Fine Art
in lieu
LaPau Gallery
Lisson Gallery
Lowell Ryan Projects
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
MAK Center for Art and Architecture
Make Room Los Angeles
Matter Studio Gallery
Matthew Brown Los Angeles
MOCA Grand Avenue
Monte Vista Projects
Morán Morán
Moskowitz Bayse
Nazarian / Curcio
Night Gallery
Nino Mier Gallery
NOON Projects
O-Town House
One Trick Pony
Paradise Framing
Park View / Paul Soto
Patricia Sweetow Gallery
Regen Projects
Reparations Club
r d f a
REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater)
Roberts Projects
Royale Projects
Sean Kelly
Sebastian Gladstone
Shoshana Wayne Gallery
Smart Objects
Steve Turner
Stroll Garden
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
The Box
The Fulcrum
The Hole
The Landing
The Poetic Research Bureau
The Wende Museum
Thinkspace Projects
Tierra del Sol Gallery
Tiger Strikes Astroid
Tomorrow Today
Track 16
Tyler Park Presents
USC Fisher Museum of Art
UTA Artist Space
Various Small Fires
Village Well Books & Coffee
Outside L.A.
Libraries/ Collections
Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Bard College, CCS Library (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
Charlotte Street Foundation (Kansas City, MO)
Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Midway Contemporary Art (Minneapolis, MN)
Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA)
NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University (Alfred, NY)
Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)
University of California Irvine, Langston IMCA (Irvine, CA)
University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

Interview with Tidawhitney Lek

Leer en Español

Tidawhitney Lek in her studio (2022). Image courtesy of the artist and Sow & Tailor, Los Angeles. Photo: Adrian Gutierrez.

In a matter of six months, Tidawhitney Lek produced eight paintings and two installations for House Hold, her inaugural solo exhibition at Sow & Tailor last February. A first-generation Cambodian-American, Lek often presents elements of her culture in her paintings. Relatives (2022), a large-scale triptych, is equal parts a manifestation of the artist’s imagination and a depiction of her lived experience growing up in a multi-generational household in Long Beach, California. The warped perspective of the dense composition makes it unclear where the interiors and exteriors of the home begin and end—family members and objects crowd into the layered space. Lek’s cousin stands just off-center, holding her head in her hand (sobbing, laughing?), while another cousin strains her head upward with a grin as if to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. (Turmoil and stillness often live harmoniously in Lek’s work.) In a gated garden to the right, a figure kneels in a prayer position, only their feet and backside visible. Ghoulish hands with acrylic nails emerge from cooking pots, creep out from behind a door that seemingly leads nowhere, and offer up a rose in the foreground. Five-gallon jugs of water and a tied-up plastic bag from Ralph’s sit at the top of a set of concrete steps; three sticks of burning incense pierce a bunch of bananas. As a first-generation U.S. citizen from Los Angeles and nearly the same age as Lek, I was drawn to her busy compositions, which perfectly capture the chaos of life in a multigenerational household where private and public space is blurred, and boundaries are often nonexistent. 

While certainly vibrant, Lek’s recent paintings also grapple with Cambodia’s dark past. Lek’s parents fled the brutal Khmer Rouge regime under Prime Minister Pol Pot, who renamed the country Kampuchea and declared 1975, the year before his reign began, Year Zero. Lek is the sixth of seven children, and her two oldest siblings were born in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines. In the 1980s, Lek’s family made the exodus to the United States, and Lek was born and raised in the Cambodian diaspora of Long Beach.

During our recent conversation, Lek and I discussed the pressures of life as a first-generation artist. Raised in a culture of silence-as-survival and inherited pain, Lek aims to break the cycle of generational trauma through her artwork and begin the process of healing.

Tina Barouti: The Khmer Rouge regime collapsed in 1979, which is actually the same year as Iran’s Revolution. These political moments changed the course of history and our lives. Now, we are here in Los Angeles living in our respective diasporas. Our experiences are common. Some would argue that exploring bifurcated identities through art has become cliché, but I think it’s still important. 

Tidawhitney Lek: It shouldn’t be cliché. It is interesting that you bring up this political timeline. I think the parallels are what allow us to understand each other well. You know, I actually didn’t face the need to explore my identity until after I graduated with my BFA.

TB: What changed? Did you travel to Cambodia? 

TL: I didn’t tap into Cambodia’s violent history until 2016. Prior to that point, I was struggling to understand what it meant to be an artist. My instructors at Cal State Long Beach encouraged me to go see the world, so I spent six months studying at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts in China. My mother was in Cambodia at the time, so it was the perfect moment to visit.

For the most part, I sat back and didn’t speak during the two weeks I was there. People would ask my mother why I was so silent, and I knew enough Khmer to respond with “I can speak!” so that they would leave me alone. I spent a lot of time listening to my mother explain what Phnom Penh was like decades ago, with its straw houses and tin roofs. I felt so insignificant in such a large world. My bigger picture became bigger, and I became smaller.

TB: Is it safe to say you had an epiphany? 

TL: My epiphany actually came earlier, in 2014, when I traveled to New York City. I was able to visit so many museums and came to realize I didn’t know much about art. I wanted to take in as much history as possible and understand all of the currents in the art of the 20th century. I wanted to understand what made painting painting. 

I didn’t even really see painting as a career, although many told me at a young age that I had something. I was receiving scholarships and began to throw myself into abstraction. Everyone was telling me that painting wouldn’t actually take me anywhere, but I turned to God and said, “I’m going to do this, just show me a sign.”

TB: First off, I’m very surprised to hear that you focused on abstraction because your work is so figurative. Secondly, who was telling you that you couldn’t be a painter? In my mind, that’s the narrative of an immigrant parent.

TL: That’s exactly what it was. Family expectations. So, the abstraction part—I had an issue really articulating and identifying what I wanted to say in my paintings. After graduating, my former instructor Siobhan McClure helped me find an art assistant job. The experience was grounding and helped me afford a studio in Los Angeles, where I began building paintings. I say “building” because I am constantly thinking about paintings as a structure. In my mind, I already know the final product and have all the parts. I just need to assemble.

The artist I assisted was absolutely figurative, and I had never given myself the opportunity to try it. I figured, I just graduated, no one knows me, and there’s nothing on the line. I spent two years really deconstructing myself. By 2019, I knew myself as a painter and was confident in my space. While having to quarantine in 2020 felt like an incubation period and didn’t affect my work life, that year I had nothing in my bank account, and on my birthday, my catalytic converter was stolen.

Tidawhitney Lek, Relatives (2022). Acrylic, pastel, and oil on canvas, 72 × 144 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Sow & Tailor, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh Schaedel.

TB: When it rains it pours.

TL: It’s true. But I felt like God was telling me something positive was coming. A few weeks later, Forrest Kirk came to support my work. Then I met another collector named AJ Rojas. Next thing you know, I met Greg Ito. Sow & Tailor, Taymour Grahne Projects, and Luna Anaïs Gallery helped me get through 2021. Now it’s 2022, and I have a solo show.

TB: How does it feel to arrive at this point?

TL: It feels great. It’s a blessing. I have to say, I am still hungry.

TB: I’d be concerned if you said you weren’t hungry.

TL: There’s always more that I am cooking up. I already feel like I am outgrowing my space again. 

As a Southeast Asian, I have to face the fact that there isn’t a big space for us. I didn’t really have any artists to refer to or look up to. I actually had no one. My community is a struggling one. For example, the pandemic really did a lot of damage to Cambodia Town. The stores have been emptied and are boarded up. We haven’t held our annual parade for the New Year in two years.1 Yet, I think we are thriving in other ways. We have our first Cambodian councilwoman, Suely Saro, in Long Beach, and an emerging singer-songwriter named Satica. I see my people and I think, “I know what you’re trying to do here. You’re hungry like me.”

TB: Are you able to talk about the experience of being a first-generation Cambodian with your family? 

TL: In my family’s dynamic, not much is said about our story.

TB: I think many immigrant communities realize their status in this country is precarious. There’s a lot of fear and shame and generational trauma on top of that.

TL: It’s all of that. Oh my god—there’s so much I am uncovering. There was not a lot of explaining, and I never understood why my family behaved the way they did. I was just told to deal and be obedient.

TB: So, your family never spoke to you about the conflict in Cambodia growing up?

TL: No. You can ask a lot of Cambodian kids of my generation. Their parents do not talk about the war.

TB: Do you have the space to be angry and sad or are you forced to feel grateful? I personally feel that my ability to reflect is a privilege, whereas my parents, grandparents, and ancestors may have been living in survival mode.

TL: I think that’s the part my family may not understand. As an American-born Cambodian, you’re dealing with a lot of issues that they can’t comprehend. Your family is happy that they can provide you with a better life. [But,] on the other hand, they may be resentful that you are living out their wildest dreams while, like you said, they’re in survival mode. On top of that, there’s the added layer of gender. As a woman, you are not allowed to complain. So, I completely understand you. If I did poke around and ask questions, I was told to be quiet. With the paintings in House Hold, I am having the real, intimate, and necessary conversations I can’t have with my family. So, who do you turn to for your emotions? 

TB: I have a therapist! 

TL: I turn to my paintings. I cry to them! These paintings, I am telling you, they’re talking to me because nobody else was.

TB: What are some of the conversations you have with the paintings in House Hold? 

TL: Well, the exhibition is called House Hold because it’s framed around the home and this experience of what takes place both within it and in the exterior spaces. The show has an undertone of violence that obviously stems from our history. The Vietnam War and the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and King Sihanouk’s involvement are a big part of the conversation. I began retracing the steps of my family’s migration and the history of Cambodia originally for a public art project in Long Beach. When my family left Southeast Asia in the 1980s, they ended up in a neighborhood with a heavy gang presence. I was born in the 1990s during the technology boom, which I reference in Monitor (2021). I pulled [the source] image [for the painting] from family photographs. My mother didn’t want my brother to get mixed up with gangs, so he was encouraged to stay home and play in front of the computer. 

In Remember the War (2022), I also included the iconic computer game Minesweeper. I threw that in because before Nixon pulled out of the war, he had littered the region with mine bombs, and today people are dealing with finding them.

TB: I am very curious about the hand motif in your work, in both the paintings and the installations.

TL: The hands were a strategy. I wanted to present a figure without actually including one. I really wanted to add a feminine touch, so I added the acrylic nails. They appear very ghoulish—some are green and others are blue. I wanted them to represent the trauma of war, violence, and displacement. The hands emerge out of the computer screen, [from] behind doors, underneath dirt and furniture. I like things to be ambiguous. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether the glass is half full or half empty. 

TB: I noticed you play with different times of day in a single composition. Also, some of the foliage appears tropical, as if we are in Cambodia, while the palm trees and sunsets are quintessentially Los Angeles.

TL: I am glad you noticed that because there’s this idea of being in two places at once. I also depict mirrors as a way to play with the picture plane. You exist in one space but all of a sudden you’re pulled elsewhere. At one moment you’re looking inside the home and the next minute you’re outside. In Relatives, you first see a horizon, and then you’re confronted with the ground. I like to set up these challenges in my painting.

TB: You talk about your relationship with God a lot, and I see a lot of religious references in your work. Tell me about your faith. 

TL: I rely on God to get a grip on timing. My mother is a practicing Buddhist, and there are Christian relatives on my father’s side. I am constantly surrounded by monks, candlelight, and incense. In Altar (2021), I painted the place where my mom asks for blessings and prays for goodness in the world. In Bless Us (2021), I depicted a monk who comes twice a year to bless us. He fills a Lowe’s bucket with water, perfume, and flower petals. We sit in front of him and repeat his chants. He then flicks us with the mixture. When my mother came to see the show, she said that he had visited the day before.

TB: What was your parents’ reaction to seeing your work? 

TL: They visited my studio for the first time this year, although I decided to pursue painting eight years ago. There’s a language barrier with my mom, and we can’t communicate that well. I think for the most part they’re proud because I can take care of my bills. 

TB: It sounds like they’re emotionally detaching from the work.

TL: Exactly. We don’t often talk about generational trauma or our family’s history. I don’t think they are able to properly discuss what they went through or communicate their emotions. When I began the work five or six months ago, I felt like the paintings were going to be powerful enough to do the work to bring all of these issues to the surface. I think they really did. Honestly, these paintings are like making notes in a diary or connecting the dots in my family history. I couldn’t talk to anyone, so I talked to the paintings.

Tidawhitney Lek (b. Long Beach, CA, 1992) lives and works in Long Beach, California. Lek was recently included in group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, Sow & Tailor, and Durden and Ray. She has also participated in two-person exhibitions at Long Beach Museum of Art, Cerritos College, and Luna Anaïs Gallery. Her work is included in the permanent collection of ICA Miami.

This interview was originally published in Carla issue 28.

Tidawhitney Lek, Kre (detail) (2022). Image courtesy of the artist and Sow & Tailor, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh Schaedel.

Tidawhitney Lek, House Hold (installation view) (2022). Image courtesy of the artist and Sow & Tailor, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh Schaedel.

Tidawhitney Lek, Remember the War (2022). Acrylic and oil on canvas, 72 × 38 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Sow & Tailor, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh Schaedel.

  1. The Cambodia Town Parade and Cultural Festival returned to Long Beach on April 3, 2022, about one month after this interview took place.

Tina Barouti, PhD is an art historian and curator from Los Angeles. She lectures in SAIC’s Art History, Theory, and Criticism department.

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