We had the good fortune of connecting with Maggie Shen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maggie, Let’s talk about principles and values – what matters to you most?
The most important value for me and my art practice is honesty. To me, the importance of honesty is obvious in the creative process. It leads to authentic artwork.
In life, I believe there are many good qualities, such as compassion, courage, and kindness. I cannot achieve any of them without first being honest with myself. I think honesty has this openness quality that allows me to accept my own vulnerabilities. This leads to a path of compassion, which, in turn, leads to kindness to others. Courage is born almost at the same moment, when I speak truth to myself. Honesty helps me to examine the gap between visual expression and intention. For example, sometimes I discover surprises along the way. These surprises may lead me to stray from my initial intention. However, by constantly and genuinely reexamining my work, I am able to refine its authenticity. That open quality of being honest in my work permits me to accept the unknown in everything, including myself and others.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I think I am different in the way that I never limit my practice to one medium or one art form. Also, the content always comes from my true experience. Each medium and art form can give a different angle on the same topic. For example, my drawings are usually used to investigate raw feelings. My paintings are endeavors to configure a point of view. My sculptures always help me to stay in the moment. My installations express interconnections between one and the environment. When I have a topic in mind, I choose the media that I feel conveys it the best. I remember what one professor said to me during my final critique as an undergrad student. “Your work is too happy,” he said. And I replied, “I cannot make up suffering that I did not experience. Having said that, it does not mean I don’t have my own struggles.” Now I look back at how lucky and naive I was! I care about many political and social issues, and actively practice what I believe to be good values. However, in my own artwork, I can only talk about topics I’ve investigated internally, and that I’ve truly gone through. I respect and listen to many other stories. It is out of respect that I understand that I don’t own them, and I should not consume them. Essentially, I believe that to understand social injustice, we have to understand our own privilege. Being an artist is hard anywhere, and being creative is the gift an artist has. Creativity can be used in many places in life to cut a new path. Don’t be the story but own your own story. The fundamental premise is to be honest to yourself and to constantly examine your intentions.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Around my studio, between North Park and City Heights, there is so much delicious food to eat alongside El Cajon Boulevard, the historical highway that goes from Savannah to San Diego. There you can find authentic tacos, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Moroccan, and Vietnamese cuisines. Of course, the beaches and the mountains around San Diego should not be missed!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association is a group of genuine people who are dedicated to taking action to make places that foster community and that help people build meaning connections. One of their hubs, Fair at 44, is currently being used to distribute essential resources to families in need during the pandemic. Every Wednesday, they collect donated fruits and veggies from people’s backyards and give them away, and that benefits the community.