Have you ever been sitting there, maybe alone in your room or at a school desk, spilling over with emotion you’re not sure what to do with? Wanda Chaima has been right there with you, and she’s here to tell you it’s normal.
Her style leads with violent kawaii tendencies and feels like a mash-up of cute cat reels, Pixar characters, and pastel candy all thrown into a possessed blender. The Chiang Mai painter has been working in this style for about five years now. “My artistic identity largely revolves around sadness, horror, and sarcasm,” she says. “But when I feel good I’ll also paint happiness and overly optimistic feelings.”
Even when Chaima is in full horror mode, comedy and cuteness are rarely forgotten. Cheshire cats and school girls are as likely to be covered in blood as the frequent demons are want to found smiling innocently. This interplay is as much an aesthetic choice as it is at the root of many issues she explores. Ongoing series “Fake Angel” and “Trying To Be Nice” are about conforming to society’s expectations by presenting a pleasurable demeanor. Those expectations can someone’s problems while also robbing them of the right of expression. They can also serve as a mask for those who are able conform but are secretly very bad. “People kill, lie, steal, and slander but turn around and put on that mask for society’s benefit and they’re all good,” she says. “I admit I have badness within me. But I’m channeling it in a healthy way.” Although it may shock some people, at least she’s just using a paintbrush and nothing more.
Chaima is unashamed of depicting carnage with paint and canvas. In fact, she makes a point of painting in extremes. She’s exercising her freedom to create however she sees fit. In one painting, space cats with huge fangs wildly devour a feast of fruits. It looks bloody and brutal at first glance but is actually a wholesome, if messy, scene. Once you look past them, a moon cow hidden in the shadows secretly devours one the cats behind them. Let artists vent, don’t waste your time worrying over their art, the painting suggests.
Venting is important to Chaima, and her artwork is a form of therapy for her. “Doodling my feelings is like complaining verbally for me,” she laughs. Other times though, the demands of being an artist can actually affect her well-being. “The cost, people’s criticism, overcoming obstacles. This causes me a lot of stress sometimes.”
Of course, she doesn’t limit herself to horror as a form of self-expression. Sex is also an important element of her work. While makes much less frequent appearances, when it does pop up it’s bold and straight to the point. In one painting, a totally nude woman squeezes a tube of white paint until it explodes all over her. In another, a mouse girl gets it very rough but consensually from a tiger, who alternately rips out her throat while penetrating her with its tail. The painting, called “เสือ-กิน-หนู,” is a play on words. “เสือ” means “tiger,” which is an idiom for ‘playboy’; “หนู” means both “mouse” and “young girl”; and “กิน” means “eat” but is also an idiom for “fuck” and “possess”.
Chaima’s work has many levels. It’s immediately fun and striking, but also comments on important issues. The act of painting is also necessary for her personally as a way to express and entertain herself. It crosses boundaries while creating new ones.