Kawaii Suga's 'Insatiable' Explores the Limbo Between Lust and Death

It’s easy to take a look at Kawaii Suga’s hentai-inspired art and notice the provocative – her work evokes strong, sexual themes that depict women-beings in both control of and submissive to their setting. However, as can be seen in Suga’s solo show, Insatiable, her work has begun to include a darker element while still maintaining her mix of dark humor and adult imagery.

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"The girls in my paintings are in these surreal, erotic dark settings...like me, they can not come to terms [with the fact] that death is inevitable."

—Kawaii Suga

The 25-year-old South Side native has been honing her craft for more than two years, spanning multiple media from stickers to large wall pieces. Some of her influences include anime mainstays like Sailor Moon, but also span other genres of art, including Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima, and visual artists Camilla d’Errico and Audrey Kawasaki, with a special connection to FKA Twigs and Rihanna.

“I really like FKA Twigs because she does a lot of things besides singing and dancing – she curates shows, she puts people on, she supports other artists. That’s really inspirational, and that’s something I want to do [by] doing different things behind the scenes,” she remarks on the British artist. However, her connection to Rihanna is a bit closer as she finds inspiration in Rihanna’s ability to rebound since her infamous relationship with Chris Brown to become a mogul. As she puts it, “She’s come a long way since then. Plus, she’s a Pisces like me. Every time people talk about Pisces, they say, ‘Oh, they’re shy and emotional.’ I don’t see her like that. I want to have her confidence and be like her.”

While Suga describes herself as quiet, her art not only speaks in volumes, but screams in a confrontational manner making its viewers confront themselves and antiquated social taboos that have begun to break down in recent years. Her art is reflective of her deepest thoughts, not just of sexual nature, but in a way that pokes and prods back at the patriarchy’s discomfort with the female anatomy: “Women are the closest to God because we create life. I don’t think it’s the nudity itself that offends people, but the self-confidence […] My girls will always represent vulnerability and strength, because the two go hand-in-hand.” Suga continues, “As young girls, we are always taught to be modest and earn a man’s respect. I always had a hard time processing that. Why do I have to earn respect? Shouldn’t I be respected as an equal? That never made any sense to me. I want to be respected as an artist, but for my skills and passion, not just because I’m a woman.”

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"My favorite thing about making art is how sincere you can be...it can be your fears, your affection, your sadness, your happiness, anything."

—Kawaii Suga

It’s amazing to see how much art she’s been working on while balancing her life as a young mother of two. The impact of her youngest daughter’s birth a year ago has had an effect on her work, not just thematically, but in her its quality. As any parent can attest, Suga appreciates her scarce time, allowing her to put more attention and focus on her work as compared to when she had more flexibility. Like any parent, Suga attests that “[parents] appreciate time more once it’s taken away, especially with a baby’s schedule. Since my time is scarce, I try to do everything as nice as I can.”

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"...it’s okay to have desires; it’s okay to be curious and let your imagination roam. We all have those thoughts we don’t want to say out loud because they seem taboo..."

—Kawaii Suga

There’s also a reverence behind Suga’s latest work that comes from something all-too familiar to most South Siders: death. Something as minor as turning 25 was not something she took for granted as she reflects on friends that were taken away too soon. “I think just being 25 has crept in on me, not because I feel ‘old,’ but because they never got to see 25. I come from a place where your friends’ lives get cut short. Maybe it traumatized me in a way”. Her art, thusly, reflects on the pervading thoughts of death that have been so prevalent, as Suga explains, “I wanted to put out what’s been on my mind for a long time, which is death and limbo, that’s why many of these pieces are black and have dead animals. The girls in my paintings are in these surreal, erotic dark settings. I don’t see them as human, though, or even entities. They’re in some kind of limbo because, like me, they can not come to terms [with the fact] that death is inevitable. Maybe if I keep painting, I’ll change my views on that, but for now, that’s what’s been on my mind.”

This conflict between sex and death is just part of Kawaii Suga’s style that viewers can relate to from the contrasting emotions between the deeper themes of sex and vulnerability to the dark humor behind seeing a phallic slug. To encapsulate what she hopes Insatiable evokes to viewers is “that it’s okay to have desires; it’s okay to be curious and let your imagination roam. We all have those thoughts we don’t want to say out loud because they seem taboo. I love expressing myself with art because anything is possible and rules don’t have to apply to anything. My favorite thing about making art is how sincere you can be […] It doesn’t have to be deep: it can be your fears, your affection, your sadness, your happiness, anything. Maybe people feel alone with those thoughts, but it’s surprising how many people can relate to you.”

Insatiable runs from March 10th to March 17th at Movement Gallery, located at 515 N. Halsted in the basement of Grassroots Chicago.