Flora Fong 

(Cuba, b. 1949)

 

Flora Fong was born to a Cantonese father in Camagüey, Cuba, and completed her artistic training in 1970, graduating from the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana. Her early work explores surrealist and expressionist trends, linking these with her own Cuban experience. In the 1980s, following her intense study of Chinese art and calligraphy—first in Havana and then, in 1989, in China—her work evolved in a striking new direction. In an interview, she recalls her overwhelming curiosity to explore her Chinese heritage, a process she undertook independently and which became a point of departure for her mature work. Fong questions the fact that she was taught only Western art in art school, and reflects on her late but revelatory study of Chinese art: “In books and reproductions, I was struck by the skill reflected in the treatment of landscapes: the perception, the synthesis, the profound content conveyed by spatial relationships; the way they could paint flowers with just one brushstroke…”     

Fong's study of Chinese calligraphy allowed her to use Chinese characters to depict ideas as well as visual motifs. For instance, she uses the logogram for the forest to represent the Cuban tropical forest in her work, and extensively (and evocatively) uses the Chinese characters for person, wind, sun, rain, cloud, mouth, garden, and mountain.  

 

Fong's works combine a diversity of subjects, such as the legacy of Chinese immigrants on the island (specifically, the experiences of her father); the ship as a symbol of the arduous journey by which Chinese immigrants made their way into the Americas; and more contemporary themes, such as Chinese cuisine. She combines these subjects with symbols and themes that are typical of the island, such as the Palma real (palm tree); the rooster, which was also a favorite motif of the well-known Cuban painter Mariano Rodriguez; Cuban coffee-makers; and—most importantly—the Caribbean cyclone, which is omnipresent in Fong’s work, as she describes herself as a cyclone in motion.