Friends Indeed Gallery is pleased to present the first U.S. solo exhibition for Thai-artist Jiab Prachakul. Prachakul was born in Nakhon Phanom, a small town on the Mekong River in northeast Thailand. She studied filmography at Thammasat University before working as a casting director at a Bangkok production company. In 2006, she relocated to London and became inspired to paint after seeing a David Hockney retrospective. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Berlin. In a city known for its bohemian community of artists, Prachakul continued to pursue an entirely self-taught practice, making portraits of her flock of friends, many of whom were involved with fashion, film, and the visual arts.
For her show with Friends Indeed, Prachakul presents a significant new body of work exploring the nuances of Asian diasporic representation through a series of intimate portraits. The artist says:
Our identity is dictated to us from the moment we are born, but as we grow up, identity is what we actually choose to be. I do believe that our circle of friends is what makes us who we are. We are all outsiders, Asian artists living abroad, and their deep friendship has offered me a ground on where I can stand and embrace my own identity.
A keen observer, Prachakul approaches the complexity of identity and authenticity through the genre of figurative painting. Pop cultural depictions of Asian Americans are historically monotropic—often casting characters in secondary roles as perpetual foreigners, villainous adversaries, or meek members of the model minority. In contrast, Prachakul’s subjects are always leading figures, manifesting a vast range of personalities and emotional registers. An exuberant young girl in costume. A stylish couple with cool removal. A mired and moody youth. Her story-driven subjects play a social and psychological role, reimagining the traditional framework of portraiture as a space to rewrite staid narratives and representational tropes. Sometimes a single figure is presented humbly against an abstract field of color and other times, they are surrounded by the intricacies of a dense, domestic backdrop. In each interpretation, Prachakul’s colorful and dynamic compositions dis- play a delicate attention to detail. Her paintings convey both an immediacy and depth that cast her subjects in a humanizing and intimate light rather than perpetuate their status as Other. There is a general sense of culture, taste, and intellect —a refined internationalism not typically displayed in American genres.
An accompanying exhibition catalogue will feature an essay by Xiaoyu Weng, Associate Curator at the Guggenheim Museum, New York and curator of the 5th Ural Biennale for Contemporary Art, and an interview between the Artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Friends Indeed Gallery is pleased to present Carlos Villa: Infinite Self a selection of drawing, painting and sculpture by the beloved late San Francisco artist.
A native San Franciscan, Carlos Villa (1936-2013) was an artist and educator whose legacy was immeasurable. His works from the 1970s and 80s deftly reject the ethnographic terms historically ascribed to non-Western art. Combining repetitive action, performance, and activism, his abstract assemblages are visually dramatic expressions of Filipino-American identity.
For nearly fifty years Carlos Villa has explored the meaning of cultural diversity in his art and in doing so has expanded our awareness of what we consider as “multicultural.” What began in his early career as an attempt to understand his own heritage–a complexity of Filipino traditions with its layered strains of Asian, African, Indian and Oceanic cultures, along with influences of a Western artistic tradition–became over time an exercise in creating his own visual anthropology to represent his personal background, and, in a broader sense, the dynamics of intercultural weaving. —Preston Fletcher
Villa’s work is in the permanent collections of SFMOMA, Oakland Museum of California, Columbia University, the Smithsonian, and the Whitney Museum, among many other public and private collections. His work was recently featured in the 2019-2020 Singapore Biennale, and will be included in the next Prospect Biennale in New Orleans. Villa has been included in important exhibitions and surveys such as the first Whitney Biennial (1973), ‘Painting and Sculpture in the Modern Era’ (1976), ‘Under the Black Sun: California Art 1974–1981’ (2012) and the Bienal de la Habana (1991). In August 2021, VIlla’s work will be the subject of a major retrospective. The traveling exhibition is organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The catalog will feature essays by renowned scholars including Lucy Lippard, Margo Machida, Paul Karlstrom, Theo Gonzalves, Luis Francia, Patrick Flores, and Jay Xu; and is funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
On January 27th, 2021, Friends Indeed is pleased to host a talk by Aleesa Alexander, co-Director of the Asian American Art Initiative and Curator of American Art at the Cantor Center for the Arts, Stanford University; Patrick Flores, Director of the Philippine Contemporary Art Network and Artistic Director of the 2019 Singapore Biennale; and Philip Tinari, Director, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing on the legacy of Bay Area artist Carlos Villa (1936-2013). The artist has an exhibition on view at Friends Indeed (Chinatown) from January 14 – March 19, 2021. Villa will have a career-retrospective in August 2021 at the Asian Art Museum. Asia Society Northern California is our promotional partner for this event.
Special thanks to Mark Johnson, Mary Valledor, and Sherwin Rio.
“Between [depression and acceptance],” writes LA-based artist Patty Chang, in a short letter inviting visitors to her multi-media exhibition Que Sera Sera, “I would add in no fixed order: repositioning, integrating, shapeshifting, imagination, enchantment, trance, transmogrification, invocation, mystification, and bewilderment.” Pain is a single rupture, she seems to say, but healing is a thousand little threads quilting repair.
Illness, now, enforces isolation. Many of our loved ones have visited hospitals alone, or even died, in quarantine. It’s heart wrenching to watch Chang stand beside a hospital bed in the video In Gait Remains (2017), holding her baby, singing to herself, the child, and to the resting body—her father on his death bed. You can see the pathos of the body, how it can be consumed, loved, or lost. How parts of it leave us all the time. Chang summons something akin to an image-memory, an impossible present. She reminds us of what life once was in a foreclosed other time, in the past.
The works on display in the two-venue show at San Francisco galleries Cushion Works and Friends Indeed were taken between 2001 and 2017. They wear 2020 well.
Nancy Lim, the shows’ curator, hesitates to say that this October was a good time to show Chang’s work—good being an inadequate word. What Lim means is that Chang’s bravery when looking directly at death, or grief, or fear, almost generates what Lim calls “an anticipatory grief.” The work suggests a way to grapple with loss in a year when so much death—by the police, by Covid-19—has happened so unfairly and avoidably. “Chang’s work prepares me for the deaths I myself will have to face,” Lim reflects.
A photograph from Chang’s 2017 series “Letdown,” which makes up a substantial portion of the shows, hangs perpendicular to In Gait Remains. Chang photographed cups of a thick, yogurt colored substance, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of the disheveled remains of food. Each image shows breast milk, which Chang pumped and was then forced to discard while traveling to the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan without her baby. Breast milk in a sardine can, breast milk colored by a saturated tea bag, breast milk next to a crumpled paper napkin.
Between the video feed of Chang singing to her father in the hospital and the photographs of milk, doomed to be discarded, you see a proximity of generations.
Living requires the body to constantly shed waste, Julia Kristeva writes in meditations on the abject. She defines the word not as a lack of cleanliness or health, but as that which “does not respect borders, positions, rules.” It is “the in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.” Chang’s work approaches abjection by refusing clear divisions. It’s mindful of the body, its fluids, but refuses to sterilize waste.
A street-facing window, like the one at Friends Indeed, has become essential. How else can we peer at art from the perceived safety of the outdoors? Through a sheet of glass, the demarcation between the spectator’s reflection and the photographs, also sheathed in an additional pane of glass, gets messy. Chang further troubles this layering by returning attention to reflections, the matrixial space of overlapping images she carefully attenuates, that unsettling in-betweenness.
A photograph can be a performance. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay characterized the camera not just as a technology, but the “invention of a new encounter.” For Azoulay, viewing an image with active attention can reanimate the moment it commits to permanent stasis. The photograph begins to move, discontinuities thaw, and the still past creeps into the present. In this way, Chang’s work extends beyond the moments she has collected and suggests continuous processing, inhabiting a cascading grief, and activating a path towards healing.
In On Love, 2013, superimposed videos of a man and a woman, both wearing the same starch white button down, play simultaneously. They speak over each other, but harmoniously. Chang’s mother, the woman, says “he is a good father, he repairs everything for the children.” The video bleeds into the man, Chang’s father, making an equation out of love: “introducing person A, person B, having B act upon A, A react to B.” They are intensely in their bodies, hyper-exposed in the act of being—for themselves, for each other, and for their daughter with the camera. It’s a portrait of companionship, the way it feels to pass time in the company of another person.
Chang’s work displays a longstanding preoccupation with the boundaries and trace appearances of the body. In Que Sera, Sera, she honors the materiality of family, motherhood, existence, and death. All the strings that bind one to others—through sight, taste, song, memory, and loss—are taut with feeling.
 Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror:An Essay on Abjection. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 4.
 Azoulay, Ariella Aïsha. The Civil Contract of Photography. (New York: Zone books, 2008), 89.
If I had it to do over again, I would assign other stages of mourning to the scripted five steps of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Perhaps the leap between depression and acceptance seemed too big a gulf to bridge. Between them, I would add in no fixed order: repositioning, integrating, shapeshifting, imagination, enchantment, trance, transmogrification, invocation, mystification, and bewilderment. When the time comes, because I am sure it will, I’ll test them out, and let you know how it goes.
Patty Chang, Que Sera Sera is a two-venue exhibition exploring loss and the visual expressions that emerge in its wake. The photographs and films on view, made between 2001 and 2017, trace our ties to home and homelands, grasping for those we love, whether they inhabit this world or the next.
Click here to reserve an appointment to view Patty Chang, Que Sera Sera at Friends Indeed Gallery. The exhibition continues at Cushion Works and is organized by Nancy Lim.
Friends Indeed Gallery is pleased to present A-Z: Artists at Large, a new global talk series focused on contemporary Asian art and its diasporas. Register for the talk HERE.
Our first conversation will take place on Tuesday, September 1st at 5PM PST / 8PM EST / 8AM GMT ahead of the closing for Stephanie H. Shih’s exhibition Same Same with Perrotin the day after. Same Same includes two new bodies of work from an ongoing series about shared nostalgia and the Asian American pantry. The artist will be in conversation with Aleesa Alexander, Assistant Curator of American Art at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, and Soleil Ho, restaurant critic for the SF Chronicle.
From the Perrotin Press Release:
Living in a diaspora often means relying on a limited set of imported products, so each one becomes a cultural touchpoint that’s shared among millions of strangers. “Groceries are incredibly intimate,” Shih says. “We bring them into our homes and feed our families with them. We literally live with them.” While soy sauce often gets “flattened into a single ingredient” in the West, the artist explains that in East and Southeast Asia, soy sauce is a category containing countless variations from culture to culture.”
While Shih has been thinking about our relationship to groceries since she began her ongoing series in 2018, she feels that the pandemic has heightened other people’s awareness of their so-called ‘essential’ nature. Appropriately, all the work for Same Same was sculpted and painted in a makeshift studio inside her Carroll Gardens apartment during nationwide calls to shelter in place.
Stephanie H. Shih (b.1986) is a Taiwanese American artist exploring concepts of home, not jut as a physical place, but also as cultural, generational, and emotional spaces we inhabit. Her work has been shown at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (Pomona, CA) Wieden Kennedy (Portland, OR), and Hashimoto Contemporary (San Francisco, CA) and featured by NPR, Los Angeles Times, Vogue, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander is Assistant Curator of American Art at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Her curatorial practice is driven by a commitment to social justice, a broad and critical understanding of what constitutes “American art,” and a desire to collaborate with living artists. From 2017-2018, she was Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and received her Ph.D. in art history from the University of California, Santa Barbara in the same year. As the daughter of a Thai-immigrant and first generation college graduate, she is also passionate about demystifying museum practice for those interested in the field, and has led workshops on the topic at Stanford, the University of California, Santa Barbara, University of San Francisco, and Southern Exposure.
Soleil Ho is the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and co-host of its food podcast, Extra Spicy.