Saya Woolfalk's Genetically Modified, Ethnically Ambiguous, Human and Plant Hybrids

Artist Saya Woolfalk has a certain fascination in all thing human — how we live, how we look, and how we interact — and we are the basis of Woolfalk's latest exhibit at the Asian Art Museum.

[jump] But what sparked this interest in all aspects of the human form and interactions?

“I’m black, white, and Japanese, so I have an interest in confluence of cultures — and also the conflict of cultures — and how those two kinds of behavioral patterns in relation to social structures could potentially be addressed in art projects,” says Woolfalk.

These patterns are thoroughly explored, dissected, and presented in Woolfalk's newest performance piece, ChimaTek: Hybridity Visualization Mandala, opening on September 4 in conjunction with AAM’s current current exhibition, Enter the Mandala: Cosmic Centers and Mental Maps of Himalayan Buddhism.

In an effort to research these cultural patterns, Woolfalk temporarily relocated to Brazil after graduate school to study folklore traditions. Not surprisingly, the art of local festivals blends the ideas of indigenous groups with some colonial influences.

“Brazilians, who are a very mixed society of people, address the politics of race and power through […] folkloric performance,” explains Woolfalk.

Drawing from these folk pieces, Woolfalk created No Place, a fictional world of Empathics. These utopian-seeking people are a group of shape-shifting, genetically modified, ethnically ambiguous, human and plant hybrids.

“I kind of outlined it as a project about a kind of fictional future world, a fictional future utopia,” says Woolfalk. “That was then followed in a second iteration by people in the present trying to kind of conjure that utopia. And now, with this ChimaTek project, it’s about those same people in the present actually transforming their utopian project into an easily distributable more-mainstream project.”

But really, if you had to boil the whole show down, its theme might not seem so far out. Like the rest of the pieces of Enter the Mandala, ChimaTek seeks to map the wants and desires of humans, as well as to suggest a path to enlightenment.

“I always knew that we were going to have this utopia to everyday-sort-of-attempt-to-utopia to some sort of more complex populace of dystopia and utopia in the structure of the project,” explains Woolfalk. “I realized that these large-scale narrative projects could potentially address many thing simultaneously — even in a very playful carnival-esque way.”

And playful they are. Woolfalk’s pieces are bold. Electric blue feathered figures covered in polka dots bold. They’re also (and perhaps most importantly) decidedly overwhelming.

“They are fun, I try to make them visually pleasurable,” says Woolfalk. “But actually, when you experience the work there is a simultaneous experience of visual predator and disorientation. And that experience of disorientation is something I’m really interested in.”

Get disoriented at the Asian Art Museum for ChimaTek: Hybridity Visualization Mandala on Sept. 4 at 6 p.m.- 9 p.m. at the Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin). Tickets are $5-$15; call 581-3500 or visit

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