Arts & Life, Events

Phung Huynh’s ‘Boys will be boys,’ explores themes of gender, patriarchy and toxic masculinity

Bright golds, blues and pinks fill the unstretched canvas on the Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum gallery wall. Mothers with tiny feet, young sons with adult faces and weeping flowers fill the canvas and tell the story of toxic masculinity and how it lives within different cultures around the world.

Artist Phung Huynh spoke at the Kleefeld Contemporary Tuesday to discuss her work “Boys will be boys.” The piece is part of the Kleefeld Contemporary’s latest exhibition, GYRE: A one-work, one-week exhibition for eight artists.

“This is about gender, it’s about patriarchy and about disrupting these representations,” Huynh said. 

Huynh and her family are refugees from Vietnam, and came to the United States when Huynh was only a year old. She describes her experience growing up as a Vietnamese-American as  a “messy and complicated cultural identity.” 

“[The painting] is inspired by an argument I had with my mom,” Huynh said. “Being a refugee daughter, I could never feel like I could challenge my parents. They suffered a lot of war trauma and violence.”

So, Huynh took her frustration out on a 12-foot canvas that took up most of the space in her small apartment at the time, painting her feelings layer upon layer. 

Women made up the majority of the crowd, which was less common in previous weeks’ art talks.  Kinesiology major Brady Carbajal wandered into the art talk accidentally and appreciated the new perspective Huynh’s piece gave him.

“This gave me a better understanding of [where] other people of different heritage[s] come from,” Carbajal said. “It gave me a better perspective and empathy for what women go through and really understand.”

Huynh first invited the crowd of women to come up close to the work, challenging them to draw the different elements they saw within the piece. According to Huynh, the exercise’s purpose was to allow the audience to take in the 12-foot canvas and see things they might have glanced over.

Huynh went on to describe the details in her work— the trouble-making boys cutting down flowers while peeing and picking their noses, the flowers with the faces of young girls that weep and taunt the boys, the mothers of the boys who just stand aside and watch with straight faces. 

American Sign Language major Blanca Meza related the piece with her own cultural experience.

“Coming from a first-generation Mexican culture, we obviously feel oppression in regard to genders and social construct,” Meza said. “We usually learn that it’s always going to be girls versus boys. In regard to machismo, we live in a culture where men are always put superior to women.” 

“Boys will be boys” will be on display at the Kleefeld Contemporary until Friday, Feb. 29. Next Tuesday’s artist speaker will be James Griffith, discussing “The Sun and the Gravity of Radiance #2.”

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