From my perspective as a Chinese adoptee, I integrate visual art, art history, design, and social conversations gathered from my experiences growing up in Texas to discuss themes of belonging and the complications of navigating intersectional identities. I apply a focus in sculpture and background in metal fabrication to large installations, ceramics, and jewelry; which revolve around the question of whether identity can be site-specific. Growing up, many people only saw me as Chinese and I adapted to those stereotypes to fulfill expectations, while simultaneously distancing myself from Asian-ness to fit into my adopted community. As I’ve grown older, the connections I’ve made have evolved to be more personal as I unpack internalized racism, gender identity, and agency. Many people believe that being raised in a white family excludes BIPOC adoptees from having BIPOC cultural identity. Others assume degrees of loss and crisis, leaving me wondering what identities I have a right to claim.
In an effort to find an identity I could inhabit comfortably, I began looking to my own experiences, and those of other adoptees in order to make sense of how an individual can be a part of a group and also feel significantly separated from it. In my sculptures, I look at the interactions in my life that formed aspects of my identity: the connection to China, one I feel inherently connected to because of the ways in which physical appearance affects the way I'm perceived, and my immersion in the American South. I combine these life experiences with a series of interviews I did with other Asian adoptees. I chose to use the aluminum rectangular pieces to create these structures because they remind me of windows into rooms I’ve learned to inhabit. The connections and seams of the structures are left in the open, just as my experiences clearly define how my identity has developed over time. The lighting and interlocking pieces highlight specific narrative images, while also preventing access to certain parts of the story which require the audience to engage with the sculpture in order to view them. In the precarious, dynamic forms, I reference the contrast between exterior spaces: America’s openness and extroverted qualities, versus the internal, sturdy, vibrant, but more private spaces explored during my time in China. These two styles can be found in both countries, as art and culture flow both ways, but I find the contrast between the two architectural styles to mirror the way I’ve structured my identity.
Adoptee stories and emotions, especially those in multiracial families, are too often told by those who are not adopted, which contributes to further confusion for adoptees, a shift toward defensiveness from families, and the commodification of adoptees themselves in political and economic systems. In telling my own story and dispelling false narratives, I want to break down assumptions and open up room for conversations that are led by the people they are about, using art to tell stories, and in doing so, create space for conversation, vulnerability, and growth on an empathetic and personal level.
Zoë Watts is an artist from Yulin, Shaanxi. They grew up in Austin, Texas and taught art after graduating, spending their free time bouldering and costume making. Current artistic practice encompasses photography, calligraphy and brush painting, and small metalworking. They currently attend graduate school in Boston, Massachusetts.