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The Dream of the Shaman - The Art of Cynthia Tom

By Roger T. Lee

image:The Dream of the Shaman - The Art of Cynthia Tom.jpg

Cynthia Tom's online portfolio

Cynthia wears many hats, being both an artist and a business person. She was laid off by Merck Pharma in 2009 and she has immersed herself in her art, lead curator for Asian American Women in the Arts, AAWAA and working with women's social justice issues.

Her work focuses on women, identity, Chinese American issues and fashion. She's been an artist in residence at the De Young Museum and a guest artist at the Legion of Honor. She lectures at UC Berkeley, Mills College and San Francisco State University, speaking on ethnicity, feminism and her art. She also discusses Asian American women artists as part of AAWAA and the issues they run into and victories celebrated.

In the time of collective crisis, be it communal or personal, the exceptional artist discovers the source of the predicament through their unique sensitivity. Their art describes the disturbance, drawing forth the presence of those without form. In defining the sickness, the community begins to be aware of the danger. In the art, there is also the waiting promise of healing. Through the artist's dreaming, the community is made whole again. This is the power of the Shaman; this is the dream work of Cynthia Tom.

In Cynthia's work, the awareness of femininity as a social construction is ever present. The art hosts an honest space where the daily life is subsumed and the underlying ideas are brought forth. The recurring use of Chinese and Kanji characters serves as a conceptual framework from which the artist engages the audience in a dialogue about the imposition of gender roles and the individual interpretation to her own place within the world.

Once those hidden prejudices are exposed, Cynthia invokes her sensual and frank avatars to convey the truth. The avatar's rich tones reflect both the appreciation for glamour as well as the wise moderation in the service of art. Unafraid of adornment, Cynthia honors the artist's impulse to beautify. Sensitive to artistic essential, she uses adornment as a grace note, and never as shorthand to express her ideas. When appropriate, the context examines the vacuous glamour with breathtaking results. She is captivated by the ongoing invention of the feminine self by external addition, but not captive by, nor allows her work to be subtracted from, her own Midas touch.

In expressing her complex inner world as the confluence of two different cultures, Cynthia's art bridges that chasm through a lyrical surrealism. Using prominent chessboard as the strict social framework, her regal female poses against the vast and absent horizon, creating a strikingly balance. The comfort of the splendid solitude attunes the viewer to the existence of the self, making aware of the intimate and necessary relationship, but understanding that relationship is a mutually defining process.

In doing so, the icons evoke the dormant racial memory through a minimal gesture and the playful surrealism creates a world where the feminine is honored and free to construct their own identity, be it rich or sparse. The world between is where the healing takes place and where one is free to reinvent. In this respect, Cynthia is the gentlest of the iconoclasts. She strips off the dead skin from ancient metaphor, now lifeless and oppressive through exhaustive overuse, and she weaves new garments and breathes life into these eternal feminine principles.

Her art draws us because we recognize her work as the dynamic preservation of heritage through reinvention and creativity. She frees the feminine from the constraints of a bygone world and ushers in an imaginative space. In this new Diasporas, the art heals the community, too long defined and instructed by an anachronistic world. In her vital and permissive diasporas, one is free to find the appropriate self to become, and one is free to imagine a world where the conceptual contradictions are resolved, not through the disembodying intellect, but through the truer and immediate the meta-synthesis of experience.

This is the healing power of art.
This is the prophetic dream work of Cynthia Tom.

Roger T. Lee, MHS
Art Critic at large

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