Lam’s paintings depict free-floating towers, based on the architecture of the Kaiping diaolou. The diaolou are late-nineteenth-century multi-storey homes located in Kaiping County, Guongdong Province, China. Constructed like fortresses, these defensive buildings were designed to protect against theft and banditry. Listed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the diaolou are significant for their distinct fusion of architectural styles, exemplifying the impact of emigration. Inspired by the architecture of the diaolou, Lam’s paintings reimagine the silhouettes of these historical buildings. Their hybridized forms explore the idea of the tower as vessels of power or escape.
Gwenessa Lam isolates the image of the shadow in relation to perception, memory, and history. As a visual trace, shadows normally register the physical presence of a thing or being; the subsequent omission of concrete objects conveys a sense of dislocation, tapping into the psychological space of the shadow as a double or alter ego.
Lam’s interest in the shadow stems from historical and contemporary narratives, in which interactions with shadows parallel larger societal concerns. The realm of the shadow becomes a world of reversals, in which the double or mirrored image is alien. In her artwork, objects and tableaux are distorted, rendering them amorphous or anthropomorphic. In this way, they attempt to make visible the unseen markers that shape our sense of place.
Gwenessa Lam received her BFA from the University of British Columbia and her MFA from New York University. She has exhibited at venues such as the Bronx Museum of the Arts (New York), the Queens Museum of Art (New York), Galerie de l’UQAM (Montreal), and Republic Gallery (Vancouver). Lam has been awarded residencies at the Banff Centre, Yaddo, the Bemis Center, the MacDowell Colony, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.