Artist Mahala Khoo

Douglas artist Mahala Khoo

ARTIST Q&A MAHALA KHOO Artist, Art Instructor at Bisbee Unified High School

What inspired you to become an artist, how did you know this was your calling?

I’ve always made and appreciated art ever since I was little. I realized it was my calling when I took high school art classes at Buena High School. I had some amazing teachers at the time, and credit their influence to my pursuit of art.

What’s been the most challenging piece you’ve done?

The most challenging piece I’ve worked on is the dragon painting, which can be seen at Studio 917 in Douglas until Sept. 25. This painting was started in the beginning of the year when some traumatic things were happening in my personal life. It has many layers underneath as I kept working and reworking it from January to August of 2021.

QUESTION: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?

ANSWER: The most rewarding part of what I do is that I am able to express myself in a raw and genuine way. I feel like pursuing art is part of an authentic lifestyle where I am able to self reflect in a consistent way.

Khoo integrates the culture of her childhood years in Malaysia and current Arizona environment into large, modern, acrylic paintings. Two calm, heavy-lidded Buddhas and a large, dynamic, wide-eyed dragon dominate spaces on the wall. Her use of high color in bold, thick layers and delicate drips give each work an aura that viewers feel.

I explore the convergence of heritage, identity and nature in my paintings. My childhood experiences in Malaysia and the themes of “eastern culture” are reappropriated from an American perspective. My paintings speak to the aspects of being an Asian American that are assigned to me from the dominant culture. I try to reclaim my identity in this process. I also reference nature and the local landscape in my artwork as a tribute to the Southwest.

She lives in Douglas and is an art instructor at Bisbee Unified High School and is co-owner of IMC ARTS. She can be reached at 520-224-7546.

More About Mahala Khoo:

AGE: 31

HOMETOWN: Whittier, California

EDUCATION: University of Arizona, M.Ed. in Secondary Education/B.A. in Studio Art and Anthropology

PUBLICATIONS: An El Centro mural artist, she currently ispainting a mural for youth in Naco, AZ. Her work has been published in the Mirage Literary & Arts magazine, and a 2017 publication of her watercolors paintings were published in Tucson’s Art Exhibits Reviewed, S/tick and Tiny Buddha publications.

EXHIBITS: She is a member of the Subway Gallery in Bisbee and has been a guest artist for solo shows at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in Tucson, Cafe Passe in Tucson and at the Sierra Vista Public Library.