Benrei Huang creates whimsical wood prints, sculptures and acrylic paintings, using the recurring motif of a rabbit-like figure she calls 'Nini' to explore a diverse range of issues such as grief or loneliness, existential angst, and environmental degradation.
Huang first began using 'Nini' in 2008 when she rediscovered her love of painting while working as a children's book illustrator. Originally from her sketchbook, the rabbit character soon evolved into the main protagonist of Huang's two-dimensional and three-dimensional projects. On her website, the artist reflects that 'In retrospect, this accidental intruder in my life has transformed into something that lead me on for an extra mile. It has more or less become my keeper on the road of exploration.'
Despite being the driving force behind the development of Huang's practice, Rabbit Nini himself has remained mostly unchanged over the years, displaying few outward emotions in many artworks. Resembling an innocent child, he may at times appear calm—as in 9-5 syndrome (2012), in which he sits still on a wooden shelf, watching the clock pass the time—or perhaps forlorn—as in Closed until you behaved (2015), where he stands patiently with friends in front of a shut garden gate—or, at most, slightly confused—as in Other people's life (2015), which shows Nini observing fellow rabbits as they run up a staircase behind him. Playing the passive spectator with such a humble attitude, however, allows Nini to act as a vessel for the imagination of the audience. He is a quiet, recurring form that encourages viewers to project their own life experiences, emotions, and reflections onto the character itself and into the situation depicted, taking what they will from the tale that Huang illustrates.
Humour, as well as an underlying sense of optimism, appears to play an essential part in Huang's work. This is evidenced in the acrylic painting I used to love spring, now I have allergy (2010): Nini's head is a fuzzy white form with leaves as eyes and a flower stem as his nose, suffocated by a hazy meadow of pollen-filled blooms. A touch of humour also allows Huang to make sorrowful themes palatable, such as climate change in Rescue mission 101—in dark water (2008), in which Nini rescues a dead fish from a sea of fish casualties, or isolation in I'll be your shadow when you're lonely (2011) that depict multiple Nini figures—some white, some black—pairing up on a chess board.
Despite Huang's pastel colour palette and rounded, cartoonish forms, her paintings are far from naïve. Instead, they present a nuanced view of the often stark realities of living in a complicated, grown-up world and the moral lessons that come with each experience.
Benrei Huang works and lives in New York.