In my jewelry series, Chinese Cowboy, I reimagine traditional Western accessories featuring designs that are distinctly not Western. I created the pieces as a tribute to the pageantry and myth of the American Cowboy and to ancient and contemporary Chinese legends, combining both aesthetically and thematically. I am interested in how the jewelry of the Wild West came to be seen as so quintessentially white and monolithic, despite being intertwined with and heavily influenced by non-white cultures.
The creation of this series was a solidification of a dual identity that I create from old and new canons expanding on my investigation of identity, and interest in storytelling, cultural exchange, and connection.
Self Portraits, 2020
At the height of the pandemic, Asian Americans experienced a record spike in recorded hate crimes. I became hyperaware of my race at this time and created this series in quarantine as an attempt to satirize and reclaim the ways perception has influenced how I see and interact with my body, gender, and appearance. Each image is paired with a snippet of conversation I've had between the ages of 13 and 23.
“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.”
Undergraduate Capstone Show
March 13-27, 2019
Zoë 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 visualize 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 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.
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 us a linear structure to show how unfolding my identity is the only way for me to be able to write myself into the narrative.
Cloud forms, based on the patterns in Chinese silk brocade, are thematically understood to be a place between the heavens and earth, associated with change. The suspended forms cast shadows that move over and through the space, interacting with both the structures and the viewer.