Vienna-based Harold Khan shows why women rule in exhibit 2
Artist Harold Khan before his painting 'Biyaya ni Amansinaya' and (left) 'Reyna Dalisay'

Vienna-based Harold Khan shows why women rule in exhibit

Male-gaze art but with whimsy and self-criticism, Harold Khan pays homage to the diverse and dynamic women of Asia in 'Reyna! Die Königinnen.'
Lito B. Zulueta | Mar 15 2024

For your Women’s Month art viewing, please rush to Altro Mondo Creative Space in Makati and try to catch the entertaining but provocative exhibit, "Reyna! Die Königinnen," by Vienna-based Singaporean-Philippine artist Harold Khan. 

In his first solo exhibit, Khan pays homage to the diverse and dynamic women of Asia.

Drawing inspiration from his multicultural experiences, Khan's exhibition offers a glimpse into the rich tapestry of feminine identities, whom he exalt as royalties in their own right. (“Die königinnen" is German for “the queens.”) Through a vibrant contemporary pop-art style, Khan breathes life into his titular queens, each artwork bursting with color, vitality, and cultural significance.

Khan mines his Southeast Asian heritage and his European exposure to feature a diverse array of women, each representing different facets of femininity and culture. From the majestic Diwata of Filipino mythology to the elegant geishas of Japan, Khan's canvases pulsate with the energy of women from varied backgrounds.

The “crowing jewel,” according to the exhibit notes, is the 63x35.4-inch acrylic-on-canvas “Biyaya ni Amansinaya,” depicting Diwata submerged underwater, surrounded by a flurry of brightly colored fish. This enchanting piece serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience and grace embodied by the women of Filipino folklore.

Harold Khan’s ‘Reyna Lakha’ 
Harold Khan’s ‘Reyna Lakha’ 

In addition to mythological figures, Khan also pays homage to contemporary women, including transgenders, whose stories are often marginalized. "Reyna Somboon" portrays a transgender woman from Thailand with grand shapes and vivid hues, challenging traditional notions of gender and beauty.

‘Ways of Seeing’

Drawing from his commercial arts background and practice (he finished fine arts in advertising at the old College of Architecture and Fine Arts of the University of Santo Tomas where a teacher of his was named Roland Ventura, and he works in an advertising agency in Vienna), Khan turns John Berger’s “male gaze” on its head in order to serve the ends of women’s empowerment.

In his famous work of aesthetics, “Ways of Seeing,” Berger enunciates the concept of the "male gaze," which refers to the way in which the visual arts, particularly painting and cinema, have traditionally depicted women from a heterosexual male perspective. This perspective objectifies women, reducing them to passive objects of male desire and pleasure.

The male gaze is rooted in power dynamics and patriarchal social structures. In traditional Western art, women are often portrayed as nude or semi-nude subjects, inviting the viewer to gaze upon their bodies. These representations cater to a heterosexual male audience and reinforce the idea that women exist primarily for the pleasure and consumption of men.

Berger critiques the male gaze for its role in perpetuating gender inequality and reinforcing stereotypes about women. He argues that this gaze not only objectifies women but also reinforces the dominance of men in society. By reducing women to mere objects of desire, the male gaze denies them agency and autonomy, relegating them to passive roles in the visual realm.

Harold Khan’s ‘Reyna Hirang’ 
Harold Khan’s ‘Reyna Hirang’ 

Moreover, Berger suggests that the male gaze extends beyond the realm of art and permeates various aspects of culture, including advertising, fashion, and media. Women are often depicted in ways that cater to male fantasies and ideals, reinforcing harmful beauty standards and gender roles.

Overall, Berger's concept of the male gaze highlights the ways in which visual representation can reflect and perpetuate power dynamics and social inequalities. It invites viewers to critically examine the images they encounter and consider how they may reinforce or challenge existing gender norms and stereotypes.

Applying the pop-art idiom and employing graphic-art techniques, Khan subjects his female subjects to the male gaze, but with whimsy and humor, he likewise subjects his own presumably patriarchal aesthetics into withering self-criticism. The result is a very revealing if very entertaining art of male-artist self-disparagement.

Family man

Married and with four children, Khan seamlessly weaves together in the series elements of pop-art, surrealism, and pop-culture motifs, creating a visually stunning and thematically rich tapestry of femininity. Each painting is a testament to his deep respect and admiration for the women who have shaped his life and artistic vision.

Harold Khan’s ‘Reyna Samboon'
Harold Khan’s ‘Reyna Samboon'

As viewers wander through the gallery, they are invited to reflect on the multifaceted nature of womanhood and the enduring strength, honor, and pride that define each queen depicted on Khan's canvases. With "Reyna! Die Königinnen," Harold Khan invites us to celebrate the diverse and formidable essence of femininity, transcending boundaries and inspiring viewers to embrace their own unique identities.

Harold Khan’s “Reyna! Die Königinnen” is on display at the Altro Mondo Creative Space, 1159 Chino Roces Ave., Makati until March 16.