Welcome to The Dean’s List! The Dean’s List will profile up-and-comers in Memphis who are certain to be the next group of leaders in the nonprofit, corporate, government, and faith communities. The Dean’s List is curated by Kevin Dean.
Kong Wee Pang is Malaysia’s loss, Memphis’ gain, bringing international designs to locations all over the city. A Senior Digital Designer at Archer Malmo as well as the owner of TaroPop, a design firm she co-founded with her husband, Kong Wee is responsible for many iconic works of public art in Memphis, including the new duck crosswalks on Riverside Drive. Her impact on the Memphis landscape has been important, as she’s drawn from various international influences while remaining true to the Memphis culture, from the amazing, shimmering installation on the side of Local in Overton Square to the Project Green Fork Recycle Bin.
Kong Wee’s transition to American culture wasn’t always easy. “It has been difficult at times to immerse myself into the western culture,” she admits. “It is not easy to come out of your comfort zone, and it takes time. It has been so rewarding to be able to bridge the two cultures together, and even now I am still learning.” From learning the English language (her sixth language!) to adjusting to the western aesthetic, Kong Wee has overcome the culture shock of moving to the American South after her undergraduate work in Singapore. Kong Wee has embraced the changes and is inspired by the contrasts between her life in the United States and elsewhere, mixing Eastern and Western design concepts. Her artwork is like having a “visual conversation” between the two cultures. She’s even managed to blend her Malaysian sensibilities with her husband’s New Orleans cuisine, calling it “Malajun” food.
Kong Wee holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore and a Masters degree from Memphis College of Art. Her work has been featured in solo and group shows in Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Berlin, Atlanta, Memphis, San Francisco, Southeast Asia, and New York City.
We chose Kong Wee because of her dedication to bringing inspired artwork to places all over Memphis. She’s literally changing Memphis one design at a time.
“Flows from heart.” Memphis water appears in my dreams, whether it was calm or rough,
like the saying “water always finds a way.” This certainly reflects the way I feel about living in this city.
You’re known for your creative public art displays. How do you hope the work impacts and inspires the city of Memphis?
I am hoping the public art can give viewer a visual therapy sensation and hopefully helps more underdeveloped places to improve the urban landscape from downtown to midtown.
I believe it can literally help brighten city’s future. I want to attract more people to the city as tourists or residents. I love seeing people take selfies in front of the public artworks and share with friends. It can make looking for the murals a sort of scavenger hunt.
If you could have dinner with three artists, living or dead, who would you choose?
Yoyoi Kusama = Living
Cai Guo-Qiang = Living
Saul Steinberg = Deceased
What’s the one Memphis restaurant you couldn’t live without?
I love so many different kinds of cuisine that it is hard to focus on only just one. Here is my list!
Porcellino’s: Small plates
Raw Girls: Clean food makes me feel great
Ecco: Sharing modern European food.
City & State: Love the environment, coffee with friends
Noodles Asian Bistro: Weekend Dim Sum
Saigruha: Authentic South Indian
Loflin Yard: Spring and fall beer, gathering with friends
What’s your favorite museum in Memphis?
The Dixon Gallery and Gardens is my favorite museum right now. As much as I often visit to see the wonderful exhibitions, I sometimes just need to take a walk through the gardens and get some inspiration from nature. There is a great new cafe that opened inside of the museum, so the Dixon is my hangout right now.
On any given Friday night, where would we most likely spot you?
Porcellino’s, Ecco, and Second Line are the spots I prefer to visit the most. I love hanging out with friends in these three places. I always feel really relaxed, and the food is always served really quickly and good.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in Memphis?
The strangest thing for me was Hurricane Elvis in 2003. Seeing so many huge downed trees and so much of the city without power was pretty surreal.
What’s the biggest issue facing Memphis, and how do we solve it?
I want to see Memphis grow without losing any of its local culture. Urban revitalization should target concentrated areas of blight, poverty, unemployment, and crime and improve the conditions by bringing in opportunities and creating mixed-income communities. I would like to see equitable revitalization instead of gentrification.
What can Memphians do to help embrace creativity and develop a community embracing the arts?
Support local artists and makers. If you are excited about an art show you are looking forward to seeing or a festival coming up, then remember to spread the word. Your excitement can be contagious!
What is one thing you’re most excited about for Memphis?
I am also really looking forward to seeing the Crosstown Concourse open and Crosstown Arts move into the building. I have spent some time living in Singapore, so I love the concept of the vertical urban village. I think it is so exciting to see a development at this scale that has the creative community so involved.
I’m really excited to be involved with Made By. They correctly believe that makers, artists and micro-manufacturers are vital to our city’s identity and must be respected, celebrated, and cultivated. They are working hard to foster an inclusive creative community that will help promote and build our city’s creative class.