Shu-Ju Wang

What you see & what you get

ArtsWatch Weekly: Richard Brown's photographic tales of Black Portland; picturing Pride; symphony's new chief; words of the poets; more

PHOTOGRAPHS TELL STORIES – all sorts of stories, in all sorts of ways. What seems like a simple process – point a camera, click, catch an image of the reality right in front of you – can take on much more varied and creative form in the hands of an artist. Yes, sometimes great photographs seem to come out of nowhere, as if by accident. But, like any other artists, great photographers have visions of their own, and the camera is the instrument of their vision. 

Father and child. Photo by Richard Brown, from his memoir “This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience.” 

Portland photographer and activist Richard Brown, who was born in Harlem in 1939, is one of those visionaries, as Maria Choban makes clear in her fascinating essay Brown in Black and White, written on the occasion of the release of Brown’s memoir, This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience, which he wrote with Brian Benson. The book, which contains two dozen of Brown’s remarkable photographs of Black life in Portland and elsewhere, suggests the complex and creative interplay of art and action and community in Brown’s life. 

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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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ArtsWatch Weekly: old, new, always

Same old story? Brash new wave? In Oregon arts & culture this week, old and new mix it up, and it's sometimes tough to tell which is which

ART IS ABOUT STRIDING BOLDLY INTO THE FUTURE and discovering the new. The Portland Art Museum, for instance, is getting ready to open the first major retrospective of the work of American artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose photography, sculpture, video, and collaborative public art projects turn their focus sharply and sometimes satirically on the flashpoints of contemporary culture and the struggle for social justice and civil rights. Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal …, which will run Oct. 12-Jan. 12, is the museum’s big fall-season attraction, and a central part of a run of shows in the next few months about the work of artists of color: the essential Portland painter Isaka Shamsud-Din, the great Robert ColescottFrida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and the just-opened exhibition Question Bridge: Black Males.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Cotton Bowl, from the series Strange Fruit, 2011. Digital c-print. 50 x 73 inches. © Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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The Week: Seatbelts & Bumpy Nights

The mirror crack'd: Dance, art, and theater ripped from the anxieties and tensions of an unruly world at large

WHAT A WEEK IT’S BEEN, RIGHT? Phone calls and whistleblowers and suppressions and impeachment hearings. A teen-aged climate activist who speaks sharply at the United Nations and prompts both cheers and jeers from the political-media talking heads. A fair amount of fiddling, if we can make a historical comparison, as Rome burns. The Ukrainian Affair looks dark and complex, which by coincidence is what Bobby Bermea has to say about Theatre Vertigo’s season-opening show, the world premiere of Dominic Finocchiaro’s play complex – small “c”, infinite anxieties. Bermea, in his pre-opening interview with Finocchiaro, calls Vertigo “the David Lynch of Portland theater,” and if it feels like we’re living in a David Lynch world, well, that’s life in the 21st century fast lane.

complex, hanging out in the no murder zone. Theatre Vertigo photo

ALSO OPENING THIS WEEKEND, at Portland Playhouse, is Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, a play about “the vim and vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors” who do their battle on the soccer pitch, and if that doesn’t remind you just a bit of the young climate activist Greta Thunberg playing on a much bigger field, well, I ask you. Meanwhile, Portland Center Stage is moving into preview performances at The Armory of what looks to be a hard-boiled, stripped-down, lean and mean Macbeth, with all of its raw palace intrigue, which gets me thinking also about Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II and “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and … well, things do circle around, don’t they?

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A history of Portland women artists

Katherine Ace's "9 Portraits" celebrates the strength of a generation of women artists. All nine gather to talk about how they got there.

It’s all about the art, of course. But it’s also about the artists and the viewers, and how and why the art came to be. So on a sunny Saturday morning at Froelick Gallery off Northwest Broadway in Portland, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 people, many of whom had ducked and dodged around the Portland International Beerfest setting up in the park a block away, gathered to delve into a particular work of art and its double and singular visions.

Katherine Ace, 9 Portraits, diptych, 2019; oil, alkyd on canvas, 72 x 120 inches, at Froelick Gallery through July 13. Photo: Jim Lommasson

The crowd, many of whom were also artists, packed the place to get a close look at 9 Portraits, artist Katherine Ace’s 10-foot-wide diptych group portrait of nine prominent veteran Portland women artists, and to hear those artists talk about the painting, their careers, and the often difficult path of making it as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field.

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