Jennifer Ling Datchuk

In Residence: Jan 23 – Mar 25, 2019

Exhibition: Mar 21 – May 20, 2019

What do you want visitors to your exhibition to take away?

The curtain or wall of fake, red hair divides the space and the works on either side of this physical barrier address different power structures in which we are complicit, that we enable, are systematic, appear invisible, and ones that we can reclaim. The curtain is a metaphor for the thresholds we cross and spaces we enter and exit daily in our lives. A few poignant examples relevant to my exhibition are the rite of passage from girlhood into womanhood; a woman entering male-dominated spaces; and a person of color and walking into white spaces asking questions like “do I belong here?” or “will they let me in?”.

Each side of the curtain challenges female representation—all refer to expectations and assumptions, from being dainty and delicate as a pure white porcelain teacup to being perceived as angry and shrill in our attempts to navigate problematic areas successfully and powerfully. I am frustrated that we have not overcome more as women. These objects demonstrate that we are actively reclaiming ideas and spaces, while also showing that we still have a lot of work to do.

Materials seem to be integral to your work. Why do you use the materials that you use?

Something very important to me is that I am trained as an object-maker. Ceramics and the history of porcelain are central to my work. Discovered in China over 2,000 years ago, it was coveted all over the world for its whiteness and purity. This white desire is something I explore as a desirable material, exoticized by the West, and as privileged racial culture. I often use hair, fake or real, because these delicate strands have the power to identify us to the world, but also perpetuate stereotypes based off the cut, color, and condition of it.

My practice is deeply-rooted in the foundation of craft. Currently, I’m inspired by the hippie beaded curtains, macramé, and the women’s rights movements of the 1970s. During this time, textiles and pottery were considered women’s crafts and not art, but hobbies taught at community centers, churches, and after school programs. I often think about how these were taught to women to keep their hands occupied and keep our voices in domestic spaces and out of public space. I want to deconstruct established hierarchies of materials and champion the handmade.

How would you describe your practice?

I work multidisciplinary with handmade and found porcelain objects, installations, performance, and photography. I am influenced and inspired by the histories and global migrations of porcelain, blue and white patterns, beauty, and popular culture to examine and critique identity, race, and gender. I gather information about objects from museum collections, thrift stores, and antique markets to social media hashtags and female icons like RGB, Beyoncé, and Cardi B, and girl culture. As a third culture kid, meeting and talking to people who grew up being half, biracial, became an important part of my practice. There is a lot of shame and isolation in being different and too much of one and not enough of another, even in one’s own family. It is about telling stories, the migrations of identity, representation of the other and reconstructing identities.

The artist wishes to thank all those who contributed to thick including:

Lané Pittard
Phung Huynh
Audrey LeGalley and Michael Foerster
Frances Baca and Daryan Arcos
Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin
Lizzy Gladstone from Sun Nation
Leo Barrios Furniture
Jake Harper from Zollie Glass
Kaitlyn Rex from Glaze Nail Lounge
Anthony Rundblade, Charlie Kitchen, Riley Robinson and everyone at Artpace
Southwest School of Art
Junior of Eureka Sheet Metal
Gary Nichols and Hare and Hound Press
Sama and Roshini
Dr. Deborah Willis

And everyone who sent in affirmations and wrote words of encouragement on beads.

Download Gallery Notes PDF for thick


Jennifer Ling Datchuk

San Antonio, Texas, USA

Jennifer Ling Datchuk is a ceramic sculptor and artist born in Warren, Ohio and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother came to this country in the early 1970s from China; her father born and raised in Ohio to Russian and Irish immigrant parents. Beyond initial appearances, the layers of her parents’ past and present histories are extremely overwhelming and complicated – a history of conflict she has inherited and a perpetual source for her work. She captures this conflict by exploring the emotive power of domestic objects and rituals that fix, organize, soothe and beautify our lives. Trained in ceramics, the artist works with porcelain and other materials often associated with traditional women’s work, such as textiles and hair, to discuss fragility, beauty, femininity, intersectionality, identity and personal history.
She holds an MFA in Artisanry from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and a BFA in Crafts from Kent State University. She has received grants from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, travel grant from Artpace, and the Linda Lighton International Artist Exchange Program to research porcelain clay as a conceptual material. She was awarded a residency through the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum to conduct her studio practice at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany and has participated in residencies at the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China, Vermont Studio Center, and the European Ceramic Work Center in the Netherlands. In 2017, she received the Emerging Voices award from the American Craft Council. Currently residing in San Antonio, Texas, where she is a Professor of Art at the Southwest School of Art. On Inauguration Day 2017, she opened the Porcelain Power Factory, a 4-year body of work that reclaims the past lives of objects to raise the social awareness of causes that we need to fight for.
Photo credit: Mark Menjivar

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Deborah Willis

New York, New York, USA

Deborah Willis, Ph.D, is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social & Cultural Analysis, Africana Studies, where she teaches courses on Photography & Imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation; contemporary women photographers and beauty. She received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Willis is the author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present; and co-author of The Black Female Body A Photographic History; Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery; and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (both titles a NAACP Image Award Winner). Professor Willis’s curated exhibitions include: “In Pursuit of Beauty” at Express Newark; “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits” at the International Center of Photography and “Reframing Beauty: Intimate Moments” at Indiana University. Since 2006 she has co-organized thematic conferences exploring imaging the black body in the West such as the conference titled Black Portraiture[s] which was held in Johannesburg in 2016. She has appeared and consulted on media projects including documentary films such as Through A Lens Darkly and Question Bridge: Black Males, a transmedia project, which received the ICP Infinity Award 2015, and American Photography, PBS Documentary.

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