Artist Ellie Kayu Ng tries on new personas in her self-portraits, exploring the dichotomy between otherness and belonging. She explains that, as an immigrant in New York, she often dresses to blend in, which has resulted in a personal wardrobe of limited vocabulary — “I hid part of my truthful self, which I’m curious to know. I wondered what person would I become if I didn’t have to care about the unwritten rules of dressing and behavior.” In her painting practice, Ng finds a slice of freedom. Depicting herself wearing rented outfits, she is able to pursue a sense of individuality, creating spaces where the rules and norms of daily life don’t apply.
“Some people have difficulty understanding my desire to fit in and stand out at once,” she elaborates. “Hence, I confide in mannequins. They, too, rely on outfits they don’t own to acquire and communicate identity. After returning their clothes, they also return to a group of bland and shared identities. They’re like me in that sense: I conform to social norms after returning the clothes I used for experimenting with individuality on canvas and leave my art in the studio. I feel consoled when I’ve found our similarities, so I want to explore our connection more deeply by creating a series of paintings that make the subjects look staged and posed. In these paintings, I can be both the window dresser and mannequin.”
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