A landscape painting of south San Diego county with hybridized plants in the foregroundIn her large-scale oil on canvas work “South Bay, San Diego”, Amanda Kachadoorian blends American landscape traditions and a distinctly southwestern aesthetic to dig into complex regional histories of San Diego focusing on plant life and botanical hybridity. 

Amanda Kachadoorian’s panoramic canvas “South Bay, San Diego”, stretches from daybreak over the Jamul mountains in the east to the sun sinking into the Pacific Ocean in the far west. Viewers are placed into a rolling landscape of golden grass that runs uninterrupted to what locals will recognize as the Sweetwater reservoir, the building of which marked a boon in development for the South Bay. In 1886, Frank Kimball proposed the building of a dam that would allow the Sweetwater river to serve the growing population of National City (1). Before this structure, the area bounced between years of drought and devastating floods. A consistent water source allowed agriculture and industry to expand bringing new people to the region. Aside from the reservoir, the landscape looks vacant, bringing to mind American photography and painting of the 19th century during westward expansion. But in reality, this landscape is populated by plants.

South Bay exists between the genres of landscape and still life as its scenic background is just as important as the carefully arranged plants in the foreground. Kachadoorian entwines the legacies of diverse peoples by combining these plants into hybridized organisms. Familiar forms include the native yucca and agave seen on the far left. Yucca has been used by the local Kumeyaay tribes to make utilitarian objects like ropes, tools, and baskets for thousands of years (2). yucca detail South Bay, San DiegoFrom the yucca’s spikey base, a tall agave stalk blooms. Instead of the agave’s natural flower, the stalk branches and bursts open with red carnations, the national flower of Spain. The Spanish were the first Europeans to enter what is now San Diego in 1542, establishing missions and beginning the colonial era (3). In the center of the composition, we see the San Pedro cactus, native to South America and also brought by the Spanish, topped with lemons. Lemons and citrus were among the first crops to be fed by the Sweetwater dam. Frank Kimball himself brought various crops through his work with the department of agriculture including eucalyptus, Japanese orange, and Italian olive trees (4). San Pedro.pngThe light green heart-shaped leaves spreading along the ground at the far right are Nephthytis Swainei, native to tropical West Africa. This vine climbs the stem of a seedpod from a Bombax Ceiba tree, native to China. African labor was used across what is now Mexico in the colonial era, immigrants from China and other East Asian countries built the Sweetwater dam side by side with Native Americans and Mexican residents. The red and white flowers to the far left combine the national flowers of the Philippines (Jasminum Sambac) and England (Tudor Rose). In 1848 the signing of the Hidalgo treaty made California a U.S. Territory bringing Anglo-Americans, including those with English ancestry, to the area (5). San Diego saw an influx of Filipino residents around the turn of the century, many of whom worked in the agricultural sector (6).

composite detail.pngIn addition to telling the region’s history, this work speaks to the contemporary biodiversity of San Diego. Within San Diego county you will find more varied flora and fauna than any other county in North America (7). Many plants thrive here due to the varied micro-climates and differences in terrain. One can imagine these plants making their way here as a part of their respective cultures, a familiar flower or leaf may act as a piece of home away from home to soothe the loneliness of a major move. Nestled in the arrangement is a human heart suspended in a glass bowl. The heart is isolated, not yet branching out, but held in a seed-like stasis looking for a fertile space to belong. Both plant and planter must adapt to grow in a new context, doing their best to take root and thrive.

Since completing “South Bay”, Kachadorrian has continued to interrogate personal and regional histories. In addition to large historic works, she has created a series of more personal “portraits” of the heritage of San Diego residents. Her newer experiments include living greenery encouraging new planted “communities” to sprout in her studio. Paying keen attention to individual stories and delving into research, Kachadoorian is presenting nuanced stories at the points where cultural memory overlaps in an ever-changing landscape.

See more of Amanda’s Work HERE


  1. Zaragoza, Barbara. “Sweetwater Reservoir.” South Bay Compass. Accessed December 18, 2019. http://southbaycompass.com/sweetwater-reservoir/.
  2. “Summary of Mohave Yucca and Its Traditional Use.” Summary of Mohave yucca and its traditional use – Department of Biology – College of Arts and Sciences – University of San Diego. University of San Diego Department of Biology. Accessed December 20, 2019. https://www.sandiego.edu/cas/biology/kumeyaay-garden/plants/mojave-yucca.php.
  3. “Introduction–Early History of the California Coast–A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed December 20, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/ca/intro.htm.
  4. Phillips, Irene. “National City in Review – San Diego History Center: San Diego, CA: Our City, Our Story.” San Diego History Center | San Diego, CA | Our City, Our Story. The Journal of San Diego History, July 1962. https://sandiegohistory.org/journal/1962/july/national/.
  5. History.com Editors. “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, November 9, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/mexican-american-war/treaty-of-guadalupe-hidalgo.
  6. Castillo, Adelaida M. “Filipino Migrants In San Diego 1900-1946 – San Diego History Center: San Diego, CA: Our City, Our Story.” San Diego History Center | San Diego, CA | Our City, Our Story. The Journal of San Diego History, 1976. https://sandiegohistory.org/journal/1976/july/migrants/.
  7. “Overview of San Diego’s Biodiversity.” The San Diego Wildfires Education Project. San Diego State University. Accessed December 20, 2019. https://interwork.sdsu.edu/fire/resources/overview_bioderversity.htm.

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