‘It’s Like Manifesting Ghosts’: Artist Stephanie Syjuco on How Textiles Can Conjure Up America’s Unsettling Past

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Stephanie Syjuco. © Art21, Inc. 2019.

California-based artist Stephanie Syjuco was born in the Philippines, and has dedicated her career to exploring the ways in which history, race, and labor skew our understanding of contemporary life.

Her work often centers on labor—especially the underrepresented kind that tends to be done by women.

In an exclusive new clip for Art21, as part of its “Extended Play” series, Syjuco sits in her Berkeley studio, cutting patterns for women’s dresses in antebellum American styles.

She tells Art21 that though the works are to be installed in a gallery at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery dedicated to the fabrication of images and textiles, she makes no pretense towards accuracy.

The “costumes may not be historically accurate at all,” she says.

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Stephanie Syjuco: Making Time." © Art21, Inc. 2019.

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Stephanie Syjuco: Making Time.” © Art21, Inc. 2019.

What sets the pieces apart is their chroma green color, which is usually associated with the green screens that serve as video backdrops upon which imaginative landscapes are later projected.

“It’s a color that you’re not supposed to see,” she says. “This idea of American history is so embedded in our national psyche that it’s almost invisible,” she continues, describing the many stereotypes that are foisted upon women of the past. “It’s like manifesting ghosts,” she says, “hauling forward all of this American history.”

For those that missed her work at the Renwick, Syjuco’s solo show, “Stephanie Syjuco: Rogue States,” is open now at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis. The exhibition further explores national identities, and how popular culture and mass media perpetuate our ideas of history.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. “Stephanie Syjuco: Rogue States” is on view at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis through December 29, 2019. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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