New American Paintings – Fay Ku: Asa Nisa Masa

Fay Ku’s solo exhibition Asa Nisa Masa at Eight Modern in Santa Fe features delicately executed graphite, ink and watercolor works inspired by her memories, experiences and relationships as a result of her upbringing in white suburbia as the child of Chinese immigrants. Through her use of subtly articulated line and negative space, Ku references East Asian artistic traditions, while her focus on figurative representation through a predominantly female-centric subject matter, suggests a more contemporary Western perspective. Her often-surreal visual narratives borrow from myth and folklore to explore the intersection of personal, social and cultural tension.

The exhibition title is a reference to Italian director Federico Felini’s cinematic masterpiece, 8 ½in which the protagonist Guido recalls a scene from his childhood. In the movie, “Asa Nisi Masais an invented word, (similar to what Americans would consider Pig Latin) chanted by children at midnight with the hopes of bringing a wall portrait to life. The subtraction of the syllables “sa”,”si”, and “sa” from “Asa Nisi Masa” (respectively) reveals the Italian word anima, which translates as ‘soul’ or ‘life force,’ and is further derived from the verb animareas ‘to animate’ or ‘to give life.’ Ku’s work imbues a kind of unspoken power — both visually and psychologically speaking; the various depictions are at once unsettlingly beautiful and whimsically bizarre, but regardless, all seem poised to literally leap off the page.

Her meticulous line work speaks to an exactitude of skill and precision, but surprisingly upon closer inspection, erasures and imperfections become faintly visible. Various appendages, body positions and expressions show evidence of reworking; the subtle changes to the articulation of gesturing fingers and toes reinforce the delicate nature of her craft. Ku admits that she makes no attempt to hide these marks as they help define her process. These finished works become the direct result of her exploration of the image making process, without preconceptions of what the final piece will look like. Even her decision to use printmaking paper, a medium not necessarily ideally suited for drawing (as the surface abrades and marks easily), serves as an obstruction of sorts, allowing her to be more objective and deliberate in her mark making while challenging her artistic approach..

Fay Ku has an M.S. in Art History and an M.F.A. in Studio Art from the Pratt Institute. She also holds a dual B.A. in literature and visual arts from Bennington College. Ku has been awarded numerous residencies from organizations such as the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Santa Fe Art Institute, the National Performance Network, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. Currently based in Brooklyn, the artist has also received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, the A.I.R. Emerging Artist Fellowship, the National Performance Network and the Urban Artists Initiative. Her work resides in the collections of the Asian American Art Centre in New York, The Contemporary Museum in Hawaii, the New Britain Museum of American Art and the University of New Mexico Art Museum.