Orange peel, horsehair and porcelain are just some of the materials Xia Zhang uses to create her multifaceted art pieces. Along with video and print imagery, they tell a complicated story influenced by the experiences of a Chinese-born American woman. Zhang’s exhibition “Skin Piece” will open on Thursday, Oct. 3, in Pannell Gallery at Sweet Briar College. An artist’s talk at 5 p.m. in Benedict Hall will precede the opening reception at 6 p.m. in Pannell Gallery. Both events are free and open to the public.
For Zhang, craft, colonialism and femininity are all closely connected — in fact, it is when they come together that things happen, she says. “Unlearning the past self through repetitive processes has been a personal liberation that has led me to further understand the present,” she writes in her artist’s statement. “As an immigrant woman of color, we are constantly expected to labor complacently and silently, to ‘pull ourselves up from the bootstraps’ in order to achieve The American Dream that was never designed for us.”
A multidisciplinary visual artist born in southern China, Zhang grew up in suburban Maryland and came into adulthood in Appalachia. Since 2012, she has exhibited in China, Thailand and also nationally. With “Skin Piece,” Zhang says, she is trying to “unpack expectations and misrepresentations that have gone on to perpetuate cycles of white toxicity.” The hair she is using suggests a “recurring level of discomfort with identity and ideals of femininity,” and she intentionally employs traditional methods such as sewing, weaving and pinching clay that are “perceived to be women’s craft,” she adds.
“Alongside these materials and objects that reference physical time and labor, I incorporate video and photography into my work to record metaphorical actions,” Zhang explains. “My practice has turned into a ritualistic habit, hoping to find ways in which to dismantle this skin hierarchy.”
Zhang is currently a visiting assistant professor of art at The University of Tulsa. She was the Alice C. Cole Visiting Artist at Wellesley College during the 2016-17 academic year, a 2017-18 resident artist at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and has recently participated at The Growlery in San Francisco as an artist-in-residence. Learn more about her at xiayzhang.com.
Pannell Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday or by appointment.
For more information, email Associate Director of Galleries and Museum Shawn O’Connor at email@example.com.