Pew Fellow of the Week: An Interview With Visual Artist Ken Lum

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Ken Lum, 2018 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Our “Pew Fellow of the Week” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

Ken Lum (2018) spoke to us about his path to contemporary art making and the curiosity that continues to drive his work. Lum’s body of work across a number of mediums, including painting, sculpture, and photography, is engaged in examining the formation of individual and societal identities. His work has been included in major exhibitions such as the São Paulo Biennial, Documenta 11, the Whitney Biennial, and the Venice Biennale, among others. In addition to his Pew Fellowship, Lum’s national and international honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and an appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada. He is currently the chair of fine arts at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ken Lum Q&A: Content Block 1

Ken Lum Q&A: Content Block 2

Ken Lum Q&A: Content Block 3

What images or things keep you company in the space where you work?

I don't really work that way where I have a lot of past images of things or objects of sentiment nearby. Whenever I embark on a project, I print out a lot of images and texts constituting the discursive formation around the subject or theme of the project. These are all pinned up on a corkboard or simply put into computer folders on the ready for me to look and relook at. During my breaks, I do like to look up at images of my children and my wife. I do that a lot.

In reflecting back to the beginning of your career, what is the most useful advice you ever received?

Rather than the most useful advice I have ever received, may I respond by stating what is the most useful advice I can offer others, particularly young artists? Making the decision to be an artist is not easy, at least not for me. My mother worked in a sweatshop. My father was a troubled individual who would return home from time to time only to borrow money to feed his severe gambling addiction. By the time I was ten, I think we were evicted three times, including once for a building deemed structurally unsound. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, I liked the idea of art despite not knowing anything about the world of galleries and museums. I know how skewed the art system is in terms of issues of social class. But, I would also say to those thinking of being an artist that if the feelings are deep and unshakable, then the only choice is to heed those feelings. There is no other choice.

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