Stephanie Syjuco: Citizens

three framed photos of people wearing masks to obscure their faces, and three flags with black text on white fabric in a gallery space

Citizens (2017). photo / Ryan Lee Gallery, New York City

Citizens features work by Stephanie Syjuco that probes both philosophical and historical definitions of what it means to be a "citizen" in terms of national belonging, civic engagement, and radical responsibility. Ranging from installation to photography and sculpture, the works consider the aesthetics of protest in the digital age with parallels to previous national protests, such as the Civil Rights movement and Japanese American internment demonstrations. Crafting analog manifestations of digital content, flow, and process, Syjuco navigates the distortion of images in the internet era and the effects of political upheaval as perceived by young citizens on the verge of adulthood. Works in this exhibition include Ungovernable, which is made up of fabric banners showing phrases adopted by protestors following the 2016 presidential election, with its large text wavering between legible and illegible. Citizen (Portrait), is a series of four staged portraits of recently graduated college students whose basic identities make them vulnerable: queer, woman, of color, and undocumented. These black-clad, masked "protestors" grapple with an uncertain reality and their precarious status within the current political climate. In the style of graduation or formal studio portraits, the images are part fiction, part reality, offering a chance for each sitter to inhabit a temporary fantasy of themselves as an active resister while protecting their identities. To the Person Sitting in Darkness, is an oversized rendition of a new American flag proposed in a 1901 satirical essay by Mark Twain on the American occupation of the Philippines. The center wall, painted in the "green screen" chroma-key color used in digital editing, holds works titled Chromakey Aftermath, which explore how media representation of public protests can distort and manipulate meaning.

Syjuco works in photography, sculpture, and installation, moving from handmade and craft-inspired mediums to digital editing. Her work explores the tension between the authentic and the counterfeit, challenging deep-seated assumptions about history, race, and labor. Through photographic portraits composed in the studio, Syjuco further explores the economics of labor and value, with a political dimension inspired by colonialist ethnographic photography, her own identity as an immigrant, and media-filtered protest imagery.

Born in Manila, Philippines, in 1974, Syjuco is featured in Season nine of the acclaimed PBS documentary series Art21: Art in the Twenty-First Century. Recent exhibitions include Being: New Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Public Knowledge at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, This Site is Under Revolution at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Rogue States at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Disrupting Craft: the 2018 Renwick Invitational at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. She is the recipient of a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship Award and a 2009 Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Award. Her work has been exhibited widely, including at MoMA/P.S.1 and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York City, the ZKM Center for Art and Technology in Germany, the 12th Havana Biennial in Cuba, the 2015 Asian Art Biennial in Taiwan, among others. Syjuco received her M.F.A. from Stanford University and B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute, and is an associate professor in sculpture at the University of California-Berkeley.

This exhibition is curated by Maria Park, associate professor in the Department of Art.

Following the gallery reception, Syjuco will deliver a lecture titled Insert/Duplicate/Delete: On the Politics of Imaging and Representation.