Natural Histories: Margaret Chen, Steppe IX

Margaret Chen - Steppe IX (1982-89), mixed media on plyboard, Collection NGJ

Margaret Chen – Steppe IX (1982-89), mixed media on plyboard, Collection NGJ

Steppe IX is part of a larger series of 17 works by Margaret Chen. In her 1995 essay, Many Rivers Crossed for the catalogue New World Imagery: Contemporary Jamaican Art curator and art critic, Petrine Archer-Straw offered the following reading of the work:

Like many Chinese families in Jamaica, the Chens’ lives function around their business, that of furniture making. It was the proximity to materials and the possibility of studio facilities within their showroom-cum-factory that fostered Margaret Chen’s interest in sculpture or, more specifically, a type of relief carving of overall large surfaces. Through these works, Chen expresses her own understanding of the family’s work ethic, which is at once laborious and creative. There is something incredibly meditative and deceptively light about the quality of her carving in the Steppe Series (1981-82), which instantly draws parallels with Chinese watercolour brushwork. However, the evenness of her chipped strokes disguises the time and effort which must go into the preparation of these works.

Margaret Chen - Steppe IX, detail

Margaret Chen – Steppe IX, detail

In the 1995 catalogue, Caribbean Visions: Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Chen herself said of the work:

Assembling and gluing, building layer upon layer, scraping, scoring, carving to an inner compulsion that propelled me to work now furiously and spontaneously, at other times slowly and repetitively. That whole process became not only an exploration of the passage of time but also of my roots- an imaginary subterranean journey beneath the steppes of Asia, of life that was no more and of what remained, accumulating, layer upon layer, vague shadows, nebulous shapes.


2 thoughts on “Natural Histories: Margaret Chen, Steppe IX

  1. I’ve known Margaret for a long time and witnessing the persistence of her vision and dedication to the marking/scarring/gouging/digging of her art making is a privilege. Margaret is a remarkable artist.

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