A public garden & cultural center

Jia Sung: Folkloric Taxonomy

May 25 - August 25, 2019

Pictured above: Jia Sung, Virgo, Astrology series, 2017, ink and gouache on paper, 9 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Wave Hill House Tearoom
May 25 – August 25, 2019

Painter and illustrator Jia Sung exhibits works on paper and canvas depicting astrological animals, tarot card creatures, Buddhist iconography and Chinese mythology. The Singaporean Chinese, Brooklyn-based artist reinvents folklore and cultural codes of higher powers through a queer and zoological lens.

Sung’s beautifully rendered and enigmatic four-eyed Chinese calendar woman welcomes the viewer into the Tea Room, the space itself almost serving as a calendar, diagram, or chart for unknowable forces. In door panels and frame-like molding nooks particular to the space, Sung installs sculptures of the Chinese Blue Dragon of the East, Black Tortoise of the North, White Tiger of the West and Red Bird of the South to anchor the exhibition along the cardinal directions. Likewise, the zodiac and tarot drawings are hung adjacent to their respective earth, air, fire and water signs and within their seasonal, directional affiliation. A large, embroidered textile work features the Tibetan Buddhist Bhavacakra, or wheel of life, and hangs within the room’s alcove adjacent to the fireplace. Sung’s installation explores these vastly varied philosophical, pseudoscientific, spiritual and highly social modes of organizing and attempting to understand the natural phenomena of our world. Indeed, all of these traditions, which span continents and millennia, utilize animal symbolism to communicate ineffable elements and cosmic questions.

Broadening these inherited traditions, Sung delicately delineates her figures as queer hybrids with gender non-conforming and species ambiguity. In a soft pastel color palette, an androgynous astrological Cancer figure emerges from a double-horizon-lined sea seemingly unconcerned with a crab clipped to the tip of his finger. The Emperor and High Priest of the tarot deck adorn regal head-dresses, beaded regalia and painted lips. In moon-plated armor, a wide-eyed, feminized warrior Chariot of the tarot wields hot-pink, toothy tigers. With a similarly commanding, protective, and threatening gaze, an anthropomorphic, female Pisces swims among toxic green eels and yellow koi fish. No matter the viewer’s level of faith in these systems of Folkloric Taxonomy, Sung hopes her work, like these cultural traditions, spark therapeutic self-reflection and supportive, interpersonal connection. 

Jia Sung is an artist and educator, born in Minnesota, bred in Singapore and now based in Brooklyn. With a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Sung is a 2018-2019 Smack Mellon Studio Artist and Van Lier Fellow, and an art director at Guernica. Her paintings and artist books have been exhibited across North America, including the Knockdown Center, RISD Museum, EFA Project Space, Lincoln Center, Yale University, and MOMA PS1, and featured in publications including Hyperallergic, Jacobin Magazine, Asian American Writers Workshop and The Guardian. She has taught workshops at such organizations as the AC Institute, Abrons Arts Center and Museum of Chinese in America.

Pictured above: Jia Sung, In the Garden, 2019, gouache and cotton embroidery floss on linen, 12 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Pictured above: Jia Sung, Temperance, Tarot series, 2018, ink and gouache on paper, 9 x 5.25 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Pictured above: Jia Sung, Calendar Girl, 2017, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Pictured above: Jia Sung, Cancer, Astrology series, 2017, ink and gouache on paper, 9 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Learn more about the artist here.


The Arts at Wave Hill are supported by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.; Michael J. Shannon; Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; New York Community Trust Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund; New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; The Pollock-Krasner Foundation; The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation; and by the Cathy and Stephen Weinroth Commissioning Fund for the Arts.