I became aware of how my appearance influences how I’m viewed around 2nd grade when I was told I was only allowed to be Mulan when the kids at school played princesses. I still wonder how much outside perception is responsible for my identity as a Chinese, female presenting individual though, because despite my best efforts, sexuality and Asian-ness ultimately became tied to my perception of myself and my body. I still fight imposter syndrome related to race, language, gender, and sexuality, and combined with my upbringing, continue to unlearn the shame and guilt I associate with many aspects of my identity.
This self portrait series was a personal project meant to identify, satirize, and reclaim aspects of my identity which I felt were manipulated in some way. Each image is paired with a comment I’ve received or conversation I had with a stranger since I turned 13.
“But where are your parents from?” “Texas.” “Wait, really?”
”Do you ever miss your birth parents?” “I never knew them.” “Oh. That’s cool though.”
“Omg you have chink eyes.” “Dude, they’re just my eyes.”
”You’re not really Chinese though, you’re American.”
“You remind me of my Chinese ex-wife.”
“My Vietnamese friend owns a nail salon, do you know her?”
“My last girlfriend was Asian, but she had lighter skin than you.”
“I’m into Asian girls. But not in a weird way. I just like anime…”
“Hey, do you speak Chinese?” “A bit.” “Say something.”
“But how does [adoption] work?” “I’m American, but I’m also Chinese.” “So you’re basically white, right?”
“How can I be racist against Asians if I wanna make out with you?”
“Y’all brought Covid here.” “I’ve actually lived in Texas for 20 years.” “Oh, well your people did.”
March 13-27, 2019
Zoe Watts builds large-scale structures that examine identity, intersectionality, and race in America through the combined use of Western and traditional Chinese aesthetic elements. Through a series of interviews, personal experiences, and photographs, she collects an accumulation of perspectives in order to visualise how an individual can be a part of a culture by definition, but feel significantly separated from it.
Reception Thursday, March 14 2019 from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. with artists’ talks beginning at 5:00 p.m.
In my sculptures, I use aluminium rectangular forms to create structures that represent the windows into the rooms I have learned to inhabit. The connections and seams of the structures are left out 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 contrast my occupation of exterior space: the openness and extroverted qualities of American society which openly display ideas and opinions, with my time in China; an internal space; vibrant, introspective, and private. These two spaces 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.
In Lost In..., I look at my experiences in China; examining aspects of Chinese art and culture that have represented or been a stepping off point for my identity.
In 平衡, I use photographs taken at assorted sites around Austin that reflect aspects of Chinese American life, and how I fit, or fail to fit, into them. I used a linear structure to show how unfolding my identity is the only way for me to be able to write myself into the narrative.
In 榆娟, I look at images of myself: how I want to present myself and how others perceive me. I asked friends to tell me what to wear, how to pose, and what expressions to make. This piece is guarded by a pair of lions, 石狮, which are glazed in blue and white.
Cloud forms, iconic in both traditional and modern art, were once understood to be a place between the heavens and earth, and were associated with powerful forces and change. The suspended forms cast shadows that move over and through the space, interacting with both the sculptures and the viewer.