After experiencing a five-year rut, Chinese-British artist Wingkei Hoang rekindled her love for art earlier this year. When lockdown began, Wingkei started up an Instagram account for her illustrations to focus her energies into a more creative outlet - “the day job redundancy kicked in, that was when I took it more seriously and turned it into a small side business”. Starting an Instagram account has encouraged her to put her art out into the world and receive encouragement and support from strangers and friends alike. At the moment, Wingkei is juggling creating and marketing art, writing blogs, day job applications, a part-time job, online courses, living, breathing, and making sure the creative juices flow consistently. “It is truly a trying time for everybody, and I really believe that we will all come out of this stronger and more self-reflective” she tells Yellowzine.
She has always been creative as a child – “I loved reading, making up my own stories, and drawing pictures to go with them”. Then throughout primary and secondary school, she took every creative project and opportunity she could. “I had thought about the idea of becoming a full-time artist” but this was a prospect she never truly entertained, in part because of low self-confidence, and in part, she says, due to the stigma of the “starving artist”. However, now creating consistently and sharing her work, her fears are lifting “doing this now feels like a slap in the face (in a good way) to my younger self. I never thought this would all lead up to something that I can share with the world. “
This year especially has shown a heightened display of racism against those of Chinese descent. “The increased hate crimes towards us Chinese as a result of the pandemic has exacerbated this even further, and it makes me sad to see how much racism is still present today.” According to Wingkei, living between Eastern and Western culture has its difficulties, but also brings in a unique set of qualities. “I am immensely proud of my Chinese identity, but I also relish the Western values of freedom of speech, individualism, and the lesser-stigmatised nudity and mental health.”
Largely underpinned by her experiences living in the UK, Wingkei’s artwork focuses on supporting Women, including but not limited to reclaiming nudity, mental health and systemic racism. “All my life, I’ve experienced overt and covert racism. When you grow up with something like this, you almost normalise it and just get on with your life. In fact, I didn’t even realise I was Asian until about 5 years old. I knew I was treated differently, by other kids and even teachers, but I couldn’t pinpoint why.” Instances like being told she was “yellow” or “ugly”, and that her packed lunch “smelt weird” or racist remarks at her language, were common place to Wingkei, so normalised that she didn’t register it as a racial issue until she was an adult.
The intersection of being a woman, and being of colour, whilst living in the Western world is a struggle. Facing sexism, misogyny and racism “and you get the perfect recipe for alienation and poor mental health.” Wingkei’s illustrations are created to showcase the strength, integrity, and resilience of women. “It is women who continue to inspire me to become a better person – my mother, my female friends, my supportive network of female creators.” Without glamorising, Wingkei work expresses a beauty in suffering, to her, beauty is much more than surface-level aesthetics. “The subjects of my artwork are generally everyday women who I know, and/or find inspirational.”
Describing herself as “nihilistic by nature”, Wingkei also find joys in the everyday. She is constantly surrounded by a diverse community of women of all ethnicities and personalities, who all play a part in her artistic output. “Sometimes I don’t even realise how much influence they have on my artwork until we get into hysterical conversations and I’m just like “okay, STOP I need to write this down”. I truly believe this is where most of my wit comes from.”
Wingkei is inspired by a wide array of artist, such as David Shrigley “whose always reminds me that art doesn’t have to be perfect and can speak for itself in the simplest of ways. He really knows how to twist darker issues into humour, and it is something I also try to do in my own artwork.” She also tells us she finds inspiration in other artists on Instagram, such as @gozitive and @magsmunroe, and Chinese photographers @luoyangggg and @renhangrenhang. “Above all, my goddesses of all time have to be Elly Smallwood and Jenny Saville. They both portray women in such daring and vulgar ways, and inspires me to take more risks in my own artwork.”
Though hesistant at first, Wingkei has come a long way as an artist, “it’s mad to see how much my art style has changed within only a few months.” One of the main things that stopped her from starting an art career, she tells us, was that she was worried about having to stick to a certain theme or style forever. But now, she acknowledges the detriment of her self-placed restrictions - “it’s so unhealthy to think like that. Sometimes I forget that this isn’t GCSE art anymore and I can do whatever I want because it’s not getting marked. I’m proud to see how far I have come, and how much substance and genuine narrative I can bring into the saturated art industry.”