Movies at SAAM: Art21 with Stephanie Syjuco

Ryan on December 14, 2018
A photograph of three green chroma-key dresses.

In The Visible Invisible, Stephanie Syjuco uses “chroma-key fabrics” to construct recognizable period costumes from significant moments of American history. Photo by Libby Weiler. 

How do objects reflect cultural moments? And, why do we value what we value? These are just some of the questions artist Stephanie Syjuco asks in the latest episode of the PBS documentary series Art 21. Movies at SAAM screened the episode “San Francisco Bay Area” and hosted a post-film conversation with the artist and Abraham Thomas, Curator in Charge at the Renwick Gallery of Art, where Syjuco's work is on view as part of the exhibition Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational 2018.

They began with a discussion of Syjuco's work and how it often includes the larger themes of authenticity and political culture, as well as the artist's need to reflect the world around her. In her 2017 exhibition, CITIZENS—where an anti-fascist protest banner wavers between legible and illegible—she explored how information and images can be disseminated or distorted. Syjuco's main aim is to ask the question, “What does it mean to be a citizen in terms of national belonging, civic engagement, and radical responsibility.” These themes are also built into the fabric of her works that are on view at the Renwick.

A man and woman sitting on a stage with microphones.

Stephanie Syjuco and Abraham Thomas in conversation at SAAM. Photo by Ryan Linthicum. 

During the Q&A that followed the film, one audience member asked, “So, how does your artwork express political culture? It just looks like a torn up cloth.”  “Good question!” she replied, “You see I live in the Bay Area, very close to Berkeley. It feels like I can’t walk to work without running into a protest. Banners are how many people express themselves, but I feel that I’ve been in the middle of it. And I noticed that there was one particular banner that kept popping up. I just found it so interesting that the banner itself was becoming ungovernable, it embodies the inability to be controlled.”

The conversation continued for another thirty minutes. Sitting close to the stage, everyone gathered, very informally, and had an open conversation about her work and its meaning. After the event, someone came up and said, “Wow, this was really great. Sometimes I watch these things at home but never really think about what I’m watching. Getting to talk to others and listen to their perspective is really empowering, not to mention talking to the artist and curator.”

Art21 does a wonderful job at highlighting innovative artists in the United States. Movies at SAAM is grateful to Stephanie Syjuco and Abraham Thomas for participating.

If you weren’t able to join us, be sure to mark your calendar for February 9th when Movies at SAAM will show Black is the Color, a documentary about African American artists throughout United States history. Special guests will include hip-hop artist Jason Nichols, Myrtis Bedolla, Founder and Director of Galerie Myrtis Baltimore, Tuliza Fleming, Curator of American Art at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Curlee Holton, Executive Director, David C. Driskell Center and Distinguished Artists in Residence, Department of Art.

Make sure to bring your questions!

Two women talking to each other inside an art gallery.

Stephanie Syjuco in front of her installation, Neutral Calibration Studies (Ornament + Crime), at the Renwick Gallery where her works are featured in the exhibition, Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational 2018. Photo by Libby Weiler.