Join us for the opening of our new Spotlight Series exhibition “What Color Am I” by Sarah Whyte.
Date: March 26, 2023
Venue: Chinese American Museum of Chicago, 4th Fl
Address: 238 W 23rd Street, Chicago, IL 60616
Statement About the Art
Where does the paradox of being called a China doll and then being told that color does not matter leave you? What Color Am I? Is a series of artworks that talks about the complications of racial understanding as a person of color raised by white parents.
Through captivating embroidered slurs on fake Chinese silk and breathtaking self-portraits that are obscured with layers of text, imagery, embroidery, and gesso, this visual story explores the struggles between the duality of racial identity and relationship.
The embroideries and paintings start separately but merge as a visual representation of both the artist’s Asian ethnicity and their white upbringing being a part of who they are. In the embroidery pieces when people see the shiny brocade-style fabric with dragons and phoenixes on it oftentimes they think that’s what Chinese silk is, but the material Sarah is using is actually 100% polyester. Synthetic fibers like polyester melt whereas natural fibers like 100% silk burn. This detail reveal can be seen on the edges of most of the embroidery pieces. Sarah chose this material as a play on her labeled identity as a “fake Asian”.
For the paintings, Sarah creates colorfully rendered self-portraits and then covers up most of the image in a gray-white gesso wash. She obscured the portraits with layers because so much of her own identity is obscured by layers of racial ambiguity. Then she hands embroidered poems she wrote in relation to the piece onto the painting. After the embroidery was finished she would cover up the words with a block of paint. Physically the words are there but unless you take a close look at the painting the words are easy to miss. It’s almost like she is highlighting and yet also erasing the embroidered words, sharing and yet also not making it easy for the viewer to read.
So often the question of race in transracial adoption is the elephant in the room because remember it doesn’t matter what you look like you are my child. But Sarah believes it’s essential that we acknowledge the issue of racism and systematic oppression that coincides. Through her work, Sarah poses the question of perception. Do you understand the material, the body, and the form as authentic or inauthentic? How do we label and choose what belongs and does not belong to these categories of race, identity, and community? What are the lines of the social construct that are flexible and fluid? After all, what is and is not considered to be a part of these groupings can change depending on the narrator and the social climate we live in. Does it matter if you perceive yourself differently than the general public?
What does it mean to be Asian? To be Chinese? To be “yellow”? To be “white”? To be American? Where do people draw the racial lines and how do they categorize race?
So, tell me What Color Am I? and What Color Are You?
Sarah Whyte is an interdisciplinary fiber artist and painter whose work questions her identity. As a Chinese American, woman adoptee who grew up in a white family Sarah’s identity is complicated. Through her experience with both transracial and transnational adoption, She examines the hierarchy of race, gender, and culture within her artwork.
Sarah was born in China and lived in an orphanage at the beginning of her formative years. Sarah was then adopted and brought to the United States where she grew up in Virginia and Texas before moving to Chicago for school. She holds a BFA in Studio Art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and is currently getting her MFA in Studio Arts at The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and is expected to graduate in 2024.