Margaret Hu

STORY BY soraya ferdman

Bold, curious, and a little reckless, a freshman Margaret Hu once had the idea of triple concentrating in MCM, Visual Arts and Cognitive Neuroscience. “They told me I couldn’t do it,” Margaret said, “they didn’t get how determined I was.” But anyone who walks through Margaret’s room, looks at her sketch book, or wardrobe will get it. Patterns that shouldn’t match but do, six foot tall paintings that breathe movement, and tiny sketches that you swear are photographs all tell you that Margaret is not concerned with the easy or even the possible - and she doesn’t want you to be either.

“I remember this one line that my Intro to neuroscience professor repeated, ‘studying the brain is not ‘what is this’, it’s ‘who is this.’” It’s a point Margaret keeps coming back to, one that reminds her that studying the brain’s anatomy isn’t enough. Instead, she looks to socio-cognitive neuroscience so that she can research human experience with a focus on morality, altruism, and socio-emotional decision making. To sum it up, Margaret is not about compressing humanity into cells, “you can start there, but it still comes back to people, and they are far messier, far more ambiguous than a formula.”

Margaret’s artwork also centers on people. She can paint a person, all the shading and colors that technique teaches artists to watch for, but she’s less interested in realism. Her recent work is deeply influenced by cubism, where she experiments with multiple perspectives and textures. Her color choice is vivid, clashing, and graphic, less guided by life and more by thought, by her figure’s story. Take Dissonance - which she is selling prints of - the portrait painting starts with the figure looking to the left with a distant, sad expression, but move a few inches to the right and the face pivots into three or four other emotions. On Blues - also sold here- achieves a similar effect with a less abstract, monochromatic finish.  

“Ultimately I’m interested in people, it’s what draws me to cognitive neuroscience and it’s also what drives me creatively”

This opposition to realism is new though. Margaret, used to feel a lot of pressure to capture reality, starting with her first art class, “I remember when my first art teacher asked me and my sister to draw an object from life. My sister was so good, she still is, but even then ‘good’ meant ‘real’. Margaret used to spend hours focusing on the types of details she thought made quality art, “the reminisces of that tendency still pop up” she points to a fox in her sketchbook that she says took days to finish, “I’m still a bit of a perfectionist.”   

But something changed, and that energy that used to push her to capture what things looked like started to push her towards new questions. “Ultimately I’m interested in people, it’s what draws me to cognitive neuroscience and it’s also what drives me creatively,” Margaret explained, “but the more I learn about how complicated, how contradicting people are, the more I want to complicate my artwork. They can’t just show what someone looks like, that’s not who they are.”

With this in mind, Margaret’s approach to her artwork has shifted, “The biggest misconception that anyone can have, and that I had for a real long time, is that facts are a thing.” By seeking out the ambiguous, intangible, and contradicting, her daringly challenges the notion that you can ever fully know who people are.