Hubert Burda Media

Artist Talk: Sandra Chevrier at Above Second

Even superheroes get the blues. Artist Sandra Chevrier tells how their experience parallels that of women today.

La cage et le drapeau déchu

Tell us about the show you’ll be mounting this week at Above Second

In the greater body of my work, the images used within the Les Cages series range from scenes of conflict to triumph to defeat. This particular body of work I will be showing at Above Second Gallery focuses on the action behind the superhero mask, in a larger sense than what we’ve previously seen in my work. The onomatopoeia of the words, along with the images, become a vehicle for carrying symbolism and the emotional charge of the pieces. The sounds almost become audible, as if echoing and bouncing around the portrait.

Superheroes feature prominently in this series. What did you wish to communicate by using these popular figures?

I often choose to highlight the fragility of the superhero – their struggles and weaknesses, exposing the humanity within the superhuman.

Despite all the playfulness of the superhero concept itself, and all the associated “crash boom pow”, superheroes are also fragile. There is also a certain melancholy in these different faces; they are experiencing a situation for which they did not wish, almost like slaves. It offsets the entertainment and fun that’s meant to be synonymous with American comics.

This is exactly the goal of the series, to highlight the daily struggle we all feel against that which is imposed by society, and the very expectations we impose on ourselves. I keep myself busy in many ways; I’m a single mother, businesswoman, artist ... I have to think about the household, romance, errands. It puts a lot on one’s shoulders. We over-work ourselves. We are all slaves to something, of something. Even Superman – when he loses his battle against Doomsday, the image of his red cape tattered and planted in the ground as a fallen flag has an intense beauty and incredible power. This is just one example among many others. We are merely human; and we are entitled to have flaws and errors.

Your work is also strongly linked to women’s issues and society’s preconceptions of women. Why do these themes speak to you?

My work needs to be dissected beyond its surface value, beyond its aesthetic. The portraits are quite literally torn between the fantastical heroics and iconography of comic books, and the harsher underlying tragedy of oppressed female identity and the exposed superficial illusion therein. I’m exhibiting a male-dominated world in my Cages, and the subjects denounce the role given to females, refusing to play the part of seducer or victim.

These women encased in these cages of comic books with characters that are hidden behind masks symbolise the struggle that women go through, having these false expectations of beauty and perfection, working within the limitations that society places on women, having what truly is beautiful corrupted in placing them in these prisons of identity. By doing so, society is asking them to become superheroes.

Do you think women are well-represented in the art world, and especially in the sort of pop/street art space that you occupy?

With the feminism movement, we have achieved so many things in the past decades. We should be proud of who we are and what we’ve accomplished, and stop putting so many pressure on our own shoulders. I feel privileged to have made my place in the art world, a world still 'dominated' by men. But in this case, I am not sure it is relevant to judge a piece of art by the gender of the artist. It is all about imagination, creativity, instinct, talent …

The eyes feature prominently in most of your pieces. What do you hope the audience sees in them?

The message would be: let's all forget about the standard of our modern communication, the limitations within our world, our self-imposed expectations and the cages we have allowed to bar us from the fullness of life’s experience.

What do you see as the next step in your evolution as an artist? What other themes would you like to explore? 

Art often comes from experimentations and accidents. I will continue working on the Les Cages series for a while. It is a very personal subject but also a universal one. I’d like to explore different ways to make this series evolve, perhaps with different imagery, characters, dimensions, matter or medium … I take it one day at the time! 

Is this your first time in Hong Kong? What’s your opinion of the city?

I’m very excited to attend the event and to do some sightseeing. It will be my first time in China, and Asia. I can’t wait to be surprised by this city I’ve heard so much of. I’m also quite happy I’ll be there at the same time as Art Basel.