Lam Qua

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- Lam Qua -

A response to Lam Qua's portraits / medical illustrations

Date 2013-2014
Duration Around ten minutes (work in progress)

Details Lam qua 01.jpg Lam qua 02.jpg

About Lam Qua, Peter Parker and George Chinnery

George Chinnery.jpg

George Chinnery

(self portrait)

Lam Qua.jpg

Lam Qua

(self portrait)

Peter Parker.jpg

Peter Parker

(portrait by Lam Qua)

Lam Qua (1801–1860) was a Chinese artist who was one of the first to paint in the Western style. His speciality was portraiture and he closely emulated the style of the English artist George Chinnery, who was resident in China at that time. Qua and Chinnery both vied for the same client base, and Qua’s lower prices and high productivity meant that he frequently out-sold Chinnery.

Peter Parker was an American medical missionary and diplomat who had set up a hospital in China to treat the poor and afflicted. He commissioned Qua to paint portraits of of his patients who were afflicted with large tumors or other visually evident deformities. It was Parker’s intention to use these portraits to promote his missionary activities. These portraits now reside in Yale University’s medical library.

About our video response to Qua's portraits

Consider two classes of images: portraits and medical illustrations. They each serve a particular purpose and we expect of them clear differences in the way that they visually present. Of the former we require that it celebrates what is unique and memorable about the sitter, of the latter we expect a clear presentation of that which is pathological in a human subject. But these two classes are also subject to the context of their dissemination and the details of their commissioning. Portraits in a museum gallery become lessened in their personal value and heightened as indexes of such values as class, religion, gender and ethnicity. Similarly a medical illustration on a shelf in someone's home could become a portrait of uncle Kevin in his final years before his cancer got the better of him and a portrait in a glass case within a medical school could be patient number 7539.

Our animated video response to the Qua paintings oscillates their condition: sick / not sick, sick / not sick. The paintings are pictured as being mounted within their frames and placed upon a museum or gallery wall. In this way multiple options for reading are presented. It is hoped this work poses questions of these framing terms: subject, sitter, institute, pathology etc. At what point do we as individuals becomes someone else's object? Being increasingly defined by our differences, is not also the condition of the modern human a pathological one? How much do our institutions frame and define us?


The Wikipedia entry on Lam Qua

The Wikipedia entry on the physician Peter Parker

Lam Qua's portraits at the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library