Saya Woolfalk’s Empathic World
Visual artist Saya Woolfalk’s imaginary world is populated by a race of mutants and governed by utopian values.
Saya Woolfalk is an admired multimedia artist known for her imaginative visual works infused with science fiction concepts.
Born in 1979 in Gifu City, Japan, to an American father and Japanese mother, Woolfalk split her childhood between the two countries. She studied at Brown University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York for the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program.
Beginning with her project The Empathics, which received a solo exhibition at Monclair Art Museum in 2012, Woolfalk created artworks featuring a fictional race of women who are able to alter their genetic make-up and fuse with plants. With successive projects No Place and ChimaTEK, she built upon this narrative, exploring cultural hybridity through a utopian vision. Her work has been exhibited around the world and rests in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Newark Museum, and the Seattle Art Museum, and other major institutions.
Woolfalk teaches at Yale School of Art and Parsons: The New School for Design in New York.
The conceptual artist Saya Woolfalk has created a utopian world, populated by its own mutant humans, the Empathics. If Saya’s imagined world is unusual, so, too, is her real-world background. She is a confluence of cultures. She was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a mixed-race African American father, but grew up in Scarsdale, New York. Yet, with so many cultures to draw on firsthand, she has, from an early age, chosen to construct her own.
Saya Woolfalk: I started building small worlds on my tables at school. So this is just kind of a part of what I’ve always done. The Empathics is this fictional race of people, who, kind of, find these bones in the woods of upstate New York. And, by encountering these bones, they start trying to mutate genetically. But their genetic mutation also causes a cultural transformation. So it’s not just a physical transformation.
But as wild and imaginary as her world might seem, Saya Woolfalk sees it simply as a reflection of her own time.
Woolfalk: Now, more and more people understand that we live in an intersectional, multi-cultural, transsexual society. And the work that I make, it’s not that it actually is teaching people things. It’s that it’s paralleling the world that we actually live in. That’s ideal to me…is that it actually becomes something that captures a moment in history, a moment in time.