Raeleen Kao

Excerpt from the Artist’s Statement:

In my earliest memory, I was laying heavily sedated on a hospital bed at three years old. In the four hours prior to that memory, my heart had been cut out from chest and my body sustained on a machine, which replicated a heart's function of pumping blood through my arteries. I see my work as a record from that first memory through a series of separate chronic conditions and surgical procedures which continue to affect my body. 


I see beauty as a mask for the morbidity of deterioration and draw on the vanity associated with desperation to produce a facade of stability as the body becomes increasingly susceptible to illness. The manner in which I depict hair demonstrates the delicacy of an individual strand, the contrived beauty of a braid, and exposes its easily disheveled nature. Hair exists as a form of pride, infamously with Marie Antoinette to its modern importance with cancer patients. In my work, I explore hair as a precise record of health and as an extension of femininity and sexual power, made most evident in its absence under the invasive treatment of chemotherapy.


I focus on scars, stitches, and biopsy sites, which actively externalize one's most intimate medical history. My self-portraits explore the body as an object vulnerable to physical and psychological trauma as a result of disease and subsequent treatment. My portrayal of the body confronts the prospect of death and exhibits loss and with exhausted passiveness represented by figures curled up in child-like and fetal positions that convey the impression of sleep.


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