Review: Tsz Kam’s “Like A Circle, Like The Moon” at Ivester Contemporary, Austin

by Meher Qazilbash February 19, 2024
Three paintings hanging on a white wall

Installation view of “Tsz Kam: Like A Circle, Like The Moon,” on view at Ivester Contemporary. Photo: Scott David Gordon

Tsz Kam’s dynamic solo show, Like A Circle, Like The Moon, at Ivester Contemporary, serves as a sort of memoir, portraying the culmination of the artist’s memories and interests leading to their current identity. 

Kam was born in British colonial Hong Kong and grew up during the post-colonial period. At age 13 they immigrated to Houston and eventually found their way to Austin, their current base, to attend the University of Texas and obtain a BFA in Studio Art. With an upbringing marked by erratic changes in environment, it follows that Kam’s perspective as an artist is one that encourages the mingling of contrasting personalities, concepts, and decorations. 

The title Like A Circle, Like The Moon communicates the marriage of Kam’s facets. In Chinese poetry, the moon is recurrently alluded to as a unifying object. The same moon overlooks everyone and everything, and connects us to the people and places we feel far away from. The exhibition underscores this notion of links and unity. Exploring connections in places we may not expect to find them is a fundamental part of Kam’s expression.

Painting of a black lion in a colorful background

Tsz Kam, “Black Lion,” 2023, acrylic gouache on cotton rag mounted on panel, 18 x 24 inches

Constructed with acrylic gouache, the paintings give off an air of regality with their vibrance, precision, and lush textures. Equally stimulating in its messaging, Kam’s work does not encourage passive consumption, but grabs you and makes you examine its various parts and piece together a cohesive picture. Dreamy, discursive, and impressively intricate, each piece references different experiences, traditions, and symbols from Kam’s development. Hong Kong’s prevalent neon lights inspire the vivid coloring that permeates every composition. Fond memories of all-girls Catholic school produced the affectionate appearances of Sacred Heart imagery. Romantic accounts of Texas culture appear in the form of John Wayne-esque wardrobe embellishments and recreations of the Texas capitol’s pink granite. The assorted details are the most delightful features of the exhibit, and reveal the artist’s sentimentality compiled in each tableau.

A particularly compelling representation of the show’s concepts is found in three paintings that welcome the viewer into the gallery: Mrs. and Mrs. Kam, Marigold and Chrysanthemum, and Cantonese Cowgirl and Bevo. Each image showcases Cantonese cowgirls, who are sporting outfits that merge accessories like bolo ties, cowboy hats, boots, and gloves, with traditional Chinese garb. Each painting in this series is a contemporary recreation of a familiar scene, like that of a hat-tipping, rose-offering, chivalrous cowboy romance taking place between two female subjects. 

Installation of seven large paintings on a white wall

Installation view of “Tsz Kam: Like A Circle, Like The Moon,” on view at Ivester Contemporary. Photo: Scott David Gordon

Cantonese Cowgirl and Bevo particularly gives gravity to this playful exploration. The cowgirl sits contemplatively under a full moon amongst limp foliage, in the company of Bevo, the longhorn steer mascot for the University of Texas at Austin. Her slumped posture indicates a heaviness. Identity is a costume, with the potential to be just as uncomfortable as it can be freeing. A self-objectification process can occur as we attempt to claim a culture, and leaves us to reduce ourselves to the shoes we wear. The artist seems to suggest that the best way to avoid confining ourselves is simply to put on more layers and accept that attempts at defining ourselves will routinely be swarming with shortcomings.

“The truth is, all traditions are fiction, and they only continue to have meaning because we believe in them,” Kam writes in the show’s notes. “There will always be those from the outside looking into the tradition of another and finding meaning in it, and there will always be those on the inside who choose to exile themselves from traditions when they begin to feel like shackles.”

Image of a nude woman siting next to a dragon

Tsz Kam, “Lion and Chimera,” 2023, acrylic gouache on cotton rag mounted on panel, 24 x 30 inches

The conversation becomes more elaborate as the exhibition goes on. High Noon sharply conveys conflict between opposing natures. The painting gets its namesake both from the definition of a “high noon” as a decisive confrontation, and from Kam’s favorite East Austin bar. It depicts a battle between two horses, one dressed in old-fashioned garb and the other wearing an outfit that’s both metallic and modern. Lion and Chimera, a layered and mythical self-portrait, intensifies the theme of hybridity. A nude sphinx version of Kam, accompanied by a Cantonese lion and various significant objects, sits on the floor of an ornate room. The elegant clutter of cultural symbols includes umbrellas under the bed, which acknowledge Hong Kong’s 2019 anti-extradition protests, a cooking fish, which pays tribute to Hong Kong’s humble past existence as a fishing village in the 19th century, and even the floor tile patterns that reference Islamic art designs. The intricacy is pleasantly overwhelming, and connects vastly different times, places, and ideas through their shared beauty.

In a world where we’re constantly prodded to pigeonhole ourselves and select a label, Kam rejects the burden of choice and opts to to complicate. Forging new definitions, their collection of work posits that one’s sense of self is best communicated by blending the surfeits of their distinct parts. 


Like A Circle, Like The Moon is on view at Ivester Contemporary through February 24, 2024.

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Marlon Hedrick February 21, 2024 - 13:49

What a lovely review! Can’t wait to go check out the show. Hook ’em!!!


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