Artist Saya Woolfalk explains ‘imaginary world’ artwork

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Photo by Daphne Alva |

Saya Woolfalk, a New York-based visual and performance artist who uses various mediums to create installations of imaginary and futuristic worlds, speaks about her work at the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett Building yesterday evening on Douglass campus.


Saya Woolfalk, a New York-based visual and performance artist, constantly thinks about ways the body can be transformed into something beyond its original state. 

The Institute for Research on Women welcomed her yesterday to their Distinguished Lecture Series held at the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett Building on Douglass campus.

IRW holds the lecture series each year and invites individuals to speak based on their theme for the year. For the 2014-2015 academic year, the theme is “Feminist Optics: Gender and Visual Studies,” and next year it will be “Poverty,” IRW Director Nicole Fleetwood said in an email. 

“The purpose of our Distinguished Lecture Series is to contribute to the intellectual life of Rutgers and the broader community by bringing prominent national and international feminist scholars and artists whose work speak to our annual theme,” she said.

Fleetwood believes Woolfalk was a good choice for the series because of the variety of methods she uses within her art pieces.

“Saya Woolfalk is an accomplished visual artist who incorporates sculpture, video, dance and fabric arts into her artistic practice. She is known for creating immersive installations of imaginary and futuristic worlds of hybrid life,” Fleetwood said.

Her pieces have been showcased in a variety of museums and galleries, including The Chrysler Museum of Art.

Woolfalk discussed and presented images of her art work, which included “Nostalgia,” “Love Monster,” “Paradise Imagined” and “Mythological Subject.”

During her senior year at Brown University, where she received her bachelor’s in visual arts and economics, Woolfalk experimented with the art styles she still uses today. 

As part of her senior thesis exhibition, Woolfalk created a piece titled “Pornographic Fingerpuppets.” She connects the relationship between the minds of children to the minds of older adults.

“I was taken by this idea that the symbolic language we learn in childhood deeply impacts the way we are indoctrinated into the visual culture of our adult world,” she said.

Woolfalk also talked about how she views her practice as a collage, where she takes a combination of ideas from different places and connects them for a larger purpose within a fictional realm. 

Although she spent most of her time in undergraduate school focusing on two-dimensional art, she decided to move onto the three-dimensional level while earning her degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her first piece was a sculptural performance titled “Consumer Desire,” she said. 

In addition to her personal works, Woolfalk recalled her collaborations with other artists. Her time at graduate school was full of people who participated in joint projects, which are one of the best things about attending graduate school, she said.

She created her piece “Love Monster” after doing some collaborations and deciding she wanted to get back to her own practice.

After graduate school, she traveled to Brazil, which is the location that inspired her piece, “Paradise Imagined.”

“It was my kind of fictional representation of this paradise of a place. I had never been to this place and so I started thinking about what that place might look like,” she said. 

She collected photos taken from home and garden magazines to create the piece.

In 2006, when she moved back to the United States, she entered the Whitney Independent Study Program, where she created the “No Place” project.

“It emerged as a way for me to create specific projects and installations for institutions while also incorporating them into a larger narrative,” she said. 

Marisa Jimenez, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, had previously worked with IRW and has attended their events in the past, but this was her first lecture series this year.

When asked about the importance of showcasing successful women artists, she said it was a way to look at a topic on a different medium.

“It is important because it not only makes people aware of women artists and how much they have done and continue to do, but it also inspires other women [to] further themselves in art,” Jimenez said.


Megan Dougherty

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