It’s a balmy day, and Madge Yang is in her New York apartment, looking relaxed and in her element sitting by a bright window. Her smile flashes mid-thought, and her voice, slightly raspy and full of feeling, is candid. We’re talking on screen and are having a great conversation, though there’s no way to note her gait or a quaint interaction with someone at a table nearby. It’s okay. As it goes with most Zoom interviews these days, we can actually delve into what motivates her without any distractions.
During the initial moments of our conversation, Madge brings up coronavirus, remarking how impossible it is to talk about the politics of it without considering the past. “The wars, relationships, and trades made decades ago affect discussions about how the virus spread, how it’s treated, how vaccines are being manufactured and sold and administered,” she says. Of course, she’s right. The political climate is fueling hate crimes against Asian Americans, touching every person in the community. Along with it, we’re experiencing yet another wave of the Delta variant and the fall, school year and all, is again not shaping up the way we thought it would.
With all that’s happening, Madge is figuring out that balance of knowing when to create and when to rest. One thing she’s definitely doing is putting her whole heart into artwork, centering so much of it around identity and mental health. With the dexterity of a bohemian artisan, she turns the tensions she feels into visual poetry to help ease them. Her works are unsettling and that’s exactly the point.
Madge works in a saturated palette, using mixed media — including fragments of vintage magazines, photography, lettering, paint, and embroidery — to create visual narratives that dip into sci-fi. She speaks of “creating a horrible nightmare on paper” to release herself from it. It’s all deeply personal art that takes up power and pain in manners that are expansive, uninhibited, and fiercely introspective.
Madge was born in Flushing, Queens, and grew up there and in Vancouver. She started figure drawing at eight years old, then got into photography by publishing Jeune Fille, a zine “full of vernacular feminist-aligned images of youth” in her area. She stretched her creative legs making portraits and lighting shoots in a photography studio she set up in her basement. It was an act of rebellion, to love art and to pursue it across the continent. Her practice has brought her to School of Visual Arts, where she’s majoring in Photography and Video.
The Daring: What’s your first vivid memory?
Madge Yang: I love this question. I remember being a young girl, in between my parents, and they were swinging me by the arms, maybe down the street or in a park. It was warm...a spring or summer day.See, the mystery about memory is how much of it do we recall, and how much of it do we fabricate based on the evidence we have? So right now, I’m thinking, “Oh, well, I was born in New York, so it was probably loud as shit in that moment.” Because it’s loud everywhere here. But who knows?
TD: So true, memory gets foggy. You’ve talked about feeling a deep need to record everything, which gives your work a diaristic quality. How do you think journaling relates to the immigrant experience?
MY: Yeah, I journal and it’s therapeutic, poignant even, because I’m recording memories and thoughts. But at the same time, journaling is evidence that you’re a little lonely. You’re essentially recording your need for introspection and clarity in that moment — and you’re by yourself. There’s something beautiful and sad about that at the same time.When we’re talking about being a refugee or an immigrant, journaling often comes from loneliness. It comes from being an outsider in a vastly new place, even though you’re also excited to be there. So you’re recording all the new experiences you’re having. It’s a little cynical to say it’s sad, but there’s a bittersweetness to it, which is lovely.
TD: Why do you think you grew up to make art about cultural divides?
MY: My work is about being Asian American, the differentiation between East and West, and living in a political climate post-cold war. A lot of tension comes with embodying these divergent parts of the world. That cultural disconnect results in disconnect within the household, and for most of my childhood and teenage years, I felt extremely isolated from my family. At the same time, I felt extremely isolated by my peers.I didn’t feel connected to my heritage, but I also did not feel connected to my community in North America, in Canada. Even though Vancouver isn’t a small town, it feels like it. Any sense of individuality was a rebellion against the norm. I spent most of my time working on creative projects and making money to leave.
A New Kind of Historical Record | The Daring
Madge Yang’s collages depict nuances of the Asian American experience. Her work centers around cultural identity, mental health, and gender norms.