Tia Noelle Kuhns is a newly emerging printmaker, and artist based in Gibsonville, NC. Tia graduated with a BFA in Printmaking from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in December of 2019. The body of work she developed over her time at UNCA culminated in a solo exhibition called Skin-Deep, Baby Doll. Tia presented her artist talk for this work, “Cuteness: Countering the Objectification of an Aesthetic,” at the 2019 State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium (SNCURCS) held at Duke University. Several of the works on display here at Starfangled Press are from this body of undergraduate work.
Since graduating, Tia has started working as a visual arts instructor in her hometown, and is currently developing her own studio space. She plans to build strong teaching practices in her current position, and aspires to further her art education and personal studio practice by pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts in printmaking in the future.
Traditionally, the term “cute” is used as a descriptor, though not one many would choose to identify as, and rarely one used in reference to physical ailments that present visually. As viewers, exaggerated size, deformity, vulnerability, fragileness, passivity, and more can draw our empathy toward a subject, activating a parental need to care for it. I strive to portray cute subjects as strong and resilient in a way that contradicts the weak image society projects upon them. This is not eliminating the aspects that make the subjects cute, but introducing more elements, such as eczema and ferocity, that add complexity to their character.
All my life, my small stature and femininity have drawn attention, creating the expectation that I would be regarded as cute. I was influenced by Japanese and Korean pop culture, which depicted cute girls in powerful roles. I emulated these characters through my dress and demeanor. In high school, my eczema worsened, and I began having visibly red, painful, itchy reactions to polyester clothing, which had previously empowered me through design. My cute identity was challenged, and I had to deal with a pitiable, stressful ailment.
Through creating self-portrait lithograph and silkscreen prints I am able to meditatively analyze my relationships with cuteness, objectification, and imperfection through eczema. The physical processing of my craft allows for breaks in conceptual thought, letting my meticulous mind focus on the rhythmic details of printing. Frequently, when making works, I will cut out, rearrange, and collage existing elements from past prints to create a better arrangement or to clarify the message of a piece after finding some new insight in my research. My art allows me to abstractify issues that could otherwise prove overwhelming, and visually emphasize the significance of a subject to take control of its impact. By addressing the difficult feelings associated with these conditions through my work, I am able to acknowledge the experience of other sufferers and provide solidarity.