The idea for the exhibition Chen Chan Chen began when the three participating artists discovered overlaps among their histories. Their surnames are the same in Chinese characters. All born in the 1950s, they grew up during the years when the Chinese Cultural Revolution took place. Nevertheless, their experiences as Chinese-American women have unfolded in different ways. The artists conceived of a project that would examine what impact this period of history might have had on their individual lives.
Diane Chen KW (born 1951) grew up in the United States. Her parents both left China as the Communists were taking over, then met and married after they immigrated to New York. Gaye Chan (born 1957) spent her early years in Hong Kong when it was a British territory and immigrated to Honolulu with her family in 1969 when she was twelve years old. Her parents left China separately during the Civil War and Communist takeover, met and married in Hong Kong. Constance (Yun Li) Chen (born 1953) grew up in Shanghai, China and was an adolescent when the Cultural Revolution (formally, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) began in 1966. Her mother managed to take part of the family to Hong Kong, but Constance remained with her father in China. She later married a man from Honolulu and immigrated here in 1987.
To provide a common starting point, each artist began with a set of four identical mass-produced ceramic statues typical of Chinese Cultural Revolution propaganda, including one of Mao Zedong in his iconic waving pose, right arm raised high. These objects made sense both for their themes as well as their artistic trajectories. Diane Chen KW and Constance Chen Liu are ceramic artists, and Gaye Chan is a conceptual/installation artist who often works with found objects.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website