katarina wong

(b. United States) 

 

Born in the United States, Katarina Wong is a first-generation Cuban-Chinese American artist. She holds an MFA from the University of Maryland, a Master of Theological Studies degree in Buddhism from Harvard Divinity School, and a BA in classics from St. John's College, Annapolis, MD. Wong was born in the United States to a Chinese father who arrived during the Chinese Exclusionary Act era (1882–1943) as a “paper son,” and to a Cuban mother who came to the US in 1960, prior to the souring of diplomatic relations between the two counties. 

Though born and raised in the United States, Wong sees her upbringing as deeply rooted in the Cuban heritage of her mother—who took her daughters on visits to the island as often as she could—and in the paradox of her father’s immigration to the United States. “In reality,” she explains, “the name Wong isn’t our family’s real name. My grandfather illegally emigrated to the US, and, as it was the Chinese Exclusion Act era, he wasn’t allowed to get his citizenship nor bring my father. As a result, a friend offered to claim my father as his son, and my father arrived on California shores (semi-)legally as a ‘paper son.’ In the transaction, my father took on the man’s name, Wong, and our family name was erased. He—and his children—lost one identity and gained a new one that carried the weight of America’s bitter history of immigration.”

Wong’s work employs symbols that emerge from mundane elements of Cuban and Chinese culture, such as in her Take Away multimedia series. These works reference iconic Cuban architecture, exemplified by the artist in her use of cement tiles painted yellow; as well as Chinese food carry-out containers, which—while very much associated with Chinese culture in the US—are actually an American invention. The combination of these two elements speak eloquently to who she is as a person and an artist. The unifying symbol of this piece combines a distinctive shade of yellow (one that is very common in Cuban architecture) with the Chinese character of her adopted last name, Wong (黃). 

Wong’s work has been shown in major institutions such as the Art Museum of the Americas (in 2019); the Chinese American Museum and the California African Art Museum, both in Los Angeles as part of the 2017 Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative; El Museo Del Barrio; The Bronx Museum; The Fowler Museum in LA; the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden; Fundacion Canal in Madrid, Spain; and the Coral Gables Art Museum in Miami. She has received numerous grants and awards, including the Cintas Fellowship for Cuban and Cuban-American artists.