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Visual artist Saya Woolfalk’s imaginary world is populated by a race of mutants and governed by utopian values.


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.