Exploring Identities with Susan Chen

Exploring Identities with Susan Chen

Susan Chen (b. 1992) is an artist searching for the meaning of home through portraiture, urban and domestic scenes. Curious to discover how painting can be used to survey communities at work, Chen is driven by the political potential of figurative painting to enact social change through increased visibility and representation. 


In her first ever print release, Chinatown Block Watch captures the resilience and local character of New York City’s Chinatown, a neighborhood teeming with history yet undergoing significant change. The print highlights the namesake advocacy group which has provided assistance and protection to the area throughout the pandemic by surveying the streets and providing ad-hoc care. Captured in the artist’s characteristic vibrant and painterly style, the exaggerated proportions and dense composition unveil Chen’s preoccupation with her subjects and community. 


Chinatown Block Watch by Susan Chen



For this small, limited edition of 20 hand-embellished prints starting at $1250, Chen reveals the diversity and care innate in a community under threat of losing historic landmarks and iconography to developers and modernizing efforts from the city, such as the removal of bilingual street signage and the closing of local shops. Honoring this history, Chen has hand-embellished each piece with brick borders and New York City’s Chinatown street names in Terracotta India Ink and art markers, making each print a unique work. 


Email  hello@artforchange.com today to register your interest for this print.


I was particularly inspired by the New York Times article Manhattan’s Chinese Street Signs are Disappearing, by cartographer Aaron Reiss and writer Denise Lu,” says Chen on her inspiration for the hand-embellishments on Chinatown Block Watch. “There was something rather nostalgic about the article, and I found handwriting each street name like I was trying to memorialize and preserve these Chinatown streets myself.”


Chen’s practice focuses on large-scale group portraits of communities at work, Chinatown communities in particular. Collaborating with volunteers from local groups like Chinatown Block Watch and Apex for Youth, Chen unpacks Asian American identities and communities as part of a search for understanding her own identity as a first-generation immigrant. Her practice is deeply personal and engaging, exemplified notably in her Zoom portrait series.



Susan Chen holding Chinatown Block Watch

 “I’m very fortunate to have gotten to work with over seventy sitters at this point and continue to be fascinated by the lives of those I paint, and their stories,” says Chen on the series. Often in a painting session, I’ve found conversations lead to how one perceives oneself, versus how one is perceived by the world, and the co-questioning of socio-political issues or systems we find ourselves living in. Working with people can be a really delicate process, but a really rewarding one. Through painted portraiture, I am able to investigate the psychology of race and concepts of community, immigration, prejudice, identity, family.”


A 2022 Forbes Under 30 North America Honoree and 2020 Hopper Prize Winner, Chen received her MFA from Columbia University in 2021 and her BA from Brown University in 2015. Her work has been featured multiple times in New American Paintings and reviewed by The New York Times, Hyperallergic, Artsy, Artnet, Art & Object, Observer, CNN Style, Galerie Magazine, and others. The artist is currently in residence at the Silver Arts Project in their Social Justice & Activism program.