Exhibitionists·Video

You'd never guess that this friendly-looking woman creates some of the scariest art we've ever seen

Maria Nguyen looks like an unassuming, amiable person. But her art is a completely different story.

Maria Nguyen looks like an unassuming, amiable person. But her art is a completely different story

(CBC Arts)

When Maria Nguyen immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong when she was 18 months old, nobody would have suspected the kind of imagery she'd be making as an adult. She drew from an early age, teaching herself how to draw comic book characters. And as a quiet, even timid child, art became a tool for her to make friends.

But as an adult, Nguyen continued to be besotted by comic books — Marvel, DC and manga that included the work of Junji Ito, a renowned Japanese horror comic book illustrator.

As Nguyen grew to illustrate her own horror images, she noted the distance between her vocation and peoples' first impressions of her. She says, "I think if I were just to walk down the street, I don't think anyone would realize what my career is. And I think that's the beauty of being an illustrator. I honestly don't think anyone could really tell, because they come from such a diverse walk of life — same with a lot of other creative industries."

Watch the video:

You can never tell who has terror hiding in her heart, as Maria Nguyen's story will teach you. Filmmakers: Kobi Ntiri and Kevin Amponsem 3:12

In this video made by filmmakers Kobi Ntiri and Kevin Amponsem, you meet Nguyen at home, where she creates some seriously chilling images — people with faces in the back of their heads, blood-stained cheeks, even severed hands. She says, "I love exploring what makes you feel really uncomfortable and I think fear is that emotion that makes us all super uncomfortable. It's pure instinct when we react to fear."

You can see more of Maria Nguyen's work here. Even if you look at it through your fingers (like I did).

(Maria Nguyen)
(CBC Arts)
(Maria Nguyen)

Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT). Watch more videos here.

About the Author

Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an instructor at OCADU and is always quite terrified of bees.