Stephanie Syjuco's "Fixed Focus (Dead Center)"

Read more about how artist Stephanie Syjuco intervened in the American imperialism narrative

By Asian Art Museum

Stephanie Syjuco (2021)Asian Art Museum

About the Artist

Stephanie Syjuco works in photography, sculpture, and installation, moving from handmade and craft-inspired mediums to digital editing and archive excavations. Recently, she has focused on how photography and image-based processes are implicated in the construction of racialized, exclusionary narratives of history and citizenship. 

Fixed Focus (Dead Center)Asian Art Museum

Syuco’s latest work resulted from a 2019/2020 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in which the artist spent hundreds of hours searching for visual evidence of the Philippines and Filipinos in the official American archive.

Fixed Focus (Dead Center)Asian Art Museum

Syjuco posited a series of guiding questions: namely, how complete is the American story based on its own record, what story does it choose to tell, and what does that say about the limits of the American archive?

Fixed Focus (Dead Center)Asian Art Museum

Artist Statement

"Fixed Focus (Dead Center) presents 36 photos mounted in a grid, displaying excerpts from the archival files of Dean Conant Worcester, an early American ethnographic explorer and staunch supporter of American imperialism in the Philippines.  

By showing these texts as fallible and correctible, Syjuco hints at the possibility for a counter-narrative to also be applied to the form of the archive.

Each image is printed at the standard size of 8 ½” x 11,” to further reference the official form of institutional documents and records.

Blown up so that the surrounding text is only legible via snippets, the errors themselves become the central focus, as opposed to the anthropological “findings” that served to support white superiority and early notions of eugenics.

Source: Photographs of photocopies of typed manuscripts assumed to be transcribed from written notes. Taken at the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives, offsite storage facility in Maryland."

The Asian Art Museum recently added Fixed Focus (Dead Center) to its collection.

Stephanie Syjuco (2021)Asian Art Museum

It feels incredibly special to be collected by a museum in your home town, and I’m thrilled to have work in the growing contemporary art collection of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Truth be told, I’ve always had a push/pull/love/hate relationship with this museum,

which has traditionally shown antiquities that, while beautiful and educational, felt like a time capsule that froze the visual notion of “Asia” into a historical Orientalist past meant for Western wonderment. 

Thanks to the vision of new curators, things change, and their recent acknowledgment of founder Avery Brundage’s racist views and focus on contemporary representation is so meaningful to me.

As a young Asian American girl I struggled to feel the museum was “mine” — that it was “them” looking at “us.” No longer! 
— Stephanie Syjuco

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