JUNIPER YARNALL-BENSON

 

Exploring patterns of identity

Shu-Ju Wang's art combines her love of mathematics, her Chinese heritage, and her concern about the climate crisis

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Exploring patterns of identity,” Juniper Yarnall-Benson’s story about Portland artist Shu-Ju Wang, was published originally on May 29, 2021, by The Immigrant Story. An ArtsWatch Community Partner, the Portland-based organization, as its name suggests, tells stories of people who come to the United States from around the world to make new lives. ArtsWatch is republishing the piece with permission.

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Through her love for patterns and problem-solving, Shu-Ju Wang creates art that highlights the immigrant experience and the importance of ecology to all people, regardless of nationality.

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1960, Wang grew up in a quiet city neighborhood of townhouses, with small shops at street level.  She had an early fascination with patterns. Her father, traveling frequently due to his military career, would bring home Sears catalogs from his trips abroad.

“I would spend hours poring over the sets of dishes pictured,” she remembers, “and just circling all the patterns that I liked.” 

“Unlike engineering, where having a really good solution is important, in art the process is just as important as the solution,” says Shu-Ju Wang. . “Having a good solution is good, but there may be a hundred different solutions when you’re making art.” Photo by: Sankar Raman/The Immigrant Story
“Unlike engineering, where having a really good solution is important, in art the process is just as important as the solution,” says Shu-Ju Wang. “Having a good solution is good, but there may be a hundred different solutions when you’re making art.” Photo by: Sankar Raman/The Immigrant Story

Through a chance encounter while in the U.S. attending war college, her father became acquainted with a family in California, the Denistons, who had hosted many international exchange students. The Denistons invited Shu-Ju to live with them and attend high school in the U.S.

Two days after she arrived in Walnut Creek, in 1975, Wang started classes at Northgate High School. With the support of her host family and her predilection for patterns, she acclimated to the U.S. school system, and did well in her classes, especially math. 

“Math doesn’t require any English,” she explains. “It doesn’t require any memorizing. It’s just all these patterns that make sense.” 

After one year in Walnut Creek, Wang learned that her host father had been hired for a new job 3,000 miles away. So at the beginning of her junior year, Wang and her host family moved to Belle Mead, N.J., where she completed high school.

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