5 Star Story: Kong Wee Pang’s Memphis art

Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 10:40 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis and the Mid-South are full of talented people with a solid musical legacy. But this area is also full of incredible fine artists who make this city even more beautiful.

In this week’s 5 Star Story, in our continuing quest to highlight the things that make us proud, meet an artist who traveled thousands of miles to make Memphis her home and whose public art is already well known to many.

From the “I Love Memphis” mural in the Crosstown neighborhood to the glittering “Love Doves” in Overton Square, Kong Wee Pang is putting her mark on Memphis. Kong Wee, whose native language is Malay, says the glitter is a touch of New Orleans, where her husband is from originally.

Kong Wee Pang's art is on display all around Memphis.
Kong Wee Pang's art is on display all around Memphis.(Action News 5)

“Sequin is perfect for the space to (make the whole environment more vibrant).”

The “Love Doves” mural was the first public art piece in Memphis that Kong Wee and her husband, artist Jay Crum, created under the pseudonym Taro Pop Studio.

“Because of that piece, we’ve been getting invited to so many different places to install some kind of same material art,” she said.

Those “different places” include installations in Denver, Auburn, Austin and Nashville.

Kong Wee Pang's art is on display all around Memphis.
Kong Wee Pang's art is on display all around Memphis.(Action News 5)

Since moving to the Bluff City 23 years ago to attend the Memphis College of Art, the Malaysian transplant has transformed mundane city surfaces into things of beauty, like the glittery mural under the Interstate-40 overpass on Main Street.

“So hopefully, this mural that is gonna help connect these two bridges together, the South Main and North Main, and revitalize that North Main area‚” Kong Wee explained.

Just steps away from that mural inside the Renasant Convention Center is another Taro Pop masterpiece representing what Kong Wee called Memphis’ endless growth and music history.

“Then we still want to capture the music. [...] So we’re using the Memphis Mississippi River bridge to form the reflection, to form the blue guitars,” she described.

Kong Wee Pang's art is on display all around Memphis.
Kong Wee Pang's art is on display all around Memphis.(Action News 5)

Kong Wee also created the 2022 River Arts Fest poster and just this year, she was invited to showcase not only her talent, but also her country of origin for the 2023 Memphis in May poster.

She explained what that painting represents: “Malaysia is a rainforest, so every morning you wake up, you will see the rainforest, the water drop, drop on the ground. So that kind of reflects my past. So when you squint your eyes you start to see that the city of the twin towers, famous Malaysia from the west. So the east side is more like a rainforest, very natural, so the hummingbird is part of... the element. Our national flower is hibiscus.”

In addition to public art, Kong Wee is a fine artist whose work has been shown in galleries around the world. Her current medium of choice is watercolor, a sort of metaphor for life.

“And so the watercolor that I use and also is part of the, kinda like Chinese idiom (speaks Chinese) means that remember where is original, the water that you drink, where you come from. So, that watercolor is kind of like opening up the abstract-like thinking; sometimes you don’t know who you are but you’re thinking you know. Water is kind of the medium that you want to control, you always want to control, but (you can’t). So what is in between that control and not control?” she theorized.

“Sometimes, I don’t even know that one stroke will form something, but there might be too much water. That means I have too much thought behind the painting.”

Kong Wee is also a design artist for companies like Planned Parenthood, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and FedEx, to name just a few.

Sometimes she immerses the technology from that aspect of her work to create fine and public art. The Summer Arts Garden in front of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, on display until October, is a great example.

“I spent so many times in Overton Park so I wanted to do my best to create this art garden piece. So when I create this piece, I also inject some AR (Augmented Reality) you can scan so the creature comes out from the umbrella,” she explained.

Kong Wee Pang's art is on display all around Memphis.
Kong Wee Pang's art is on display all around Memphis.(Action News 5)

But whether her art is digital, three-dimensional or on canvas, Kong Wee’s Memphis masterpieces inspire us all to open our hearts and imagination, like a painting she created that, on first look, appears to be a large flower.

“So for the piece, the bird is hidden, the hidden bird in the flower but you see the first thing is like, ‘Oh, there’s a flower.’ But, if you’re using your heart to see something, you will see even more the hidden message,” she said.

Kong Wee Pang makes us proud she’s made Memphis home.

To learn more about Kong Wee Pang’s art, click here.

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