Saya Woolfalk

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Saya Woolfalk
Notable work No Place, The Empathics, ChimaTEK

Saya Woolfalk (born 1979, Gifu City, Japan) is a New York based artist known for her multimedia exploration of hybridity, science, race, and sex. Woolfalk uses science fiction and fantasy to reimagine the world in multiple dimensions.[1]


Woolfalk was born in Gifu City, Japan, to a Japanese mother and a mixed-race African American and white father. She grew up in Scarsdale, NY, and has an art studio in Manhattan. Woolfalk was educated at Brown University (B.A. Visual Art and Economics 2001)[2] and earned her M.F.A. in Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004.[3] Woolfalk moved to New York in the 2006, to participate in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, and was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem from 2007-2008.[4] She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, the anthropologist, Sean T. Mitchell, and their daughter Aya Woolfalk Mitchell.


Woolfalk’s work has exhibited at galleries and museums around the United States and abroad, including PS1/MoMA in New York,[5] the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Studio Museum in Harlem, Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville,[6] Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC,[7] and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.[8] She participated in PERFORMA 09.[9]

In the New York Times, art critic Holland Cotter wrote of Woolfalk's piece, "Chimera," at Third Streaming Gallery, that "Ms. Woolfalk has created her own society of mythological beings called the Empathics, who not only blend racial and ethnic differences, but also dissolve the line between humans and plants. These sculptural figures, with their blossom heads, are fantastic but, as with all fundamentally spiritual art, a complex moral thread runs through the fantasy." [10] In an Art Talk with AMMO Magazine, Woolfalk says "I create fictional worlds that are as immersive and full-scale as possible. I take elements from the real world and fold them into fantasy so that they are semi-recognizable to my viewers. My favorite part of building these places is when they start to almost make themselves. It gets really exciting when the logic of a project has become so clear that he project tells me what should happen next in the story."[11]

Art critic Roberta Smith of The New York Times called the piece, "Ethnography of No Place," that Woolfalk developed with anthropologist and filmmaker, Rachael Lears, “a little tour de force of performance, animation, born-again Pattern and Decoration, soft sculpture and anthropological satire.” [12]

Lowery Stokes Sims has written that "Woolfalk is single-handedly guiding us back to the original promise of modern art. Suprematism and Constructivism in Russia, De Stijl in the Netherlands introduced formal devices such the elimination or blunting of figural reference, the use of simple geometric shapes and primary colors in the belief that these encourage a transnational, un-xenophobic perspective that would lead us to open-minded future. Therefore we underestimate Saya Woolfalk at our peril, because it is conviction such as hers that can move cultures and shift the meta-narrative." [13]

She has received a number of prestigious awards including a Fulbright for research in Maranhão, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil a Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, an Art Matters Grant in 2007[14] and has been an artist-in-residence at the Newark Museum,[15] University at Buffalo,[16] Yaddo,[17] Sculpture Space and Dieu Donne Papermill. With funding from the NEA, her solo exhibition, "The Institute of Empathy," ran at Real Art Ways Hartford, CT from the fall of 2010 to the spring of 2011. Her first major solo exhibition at a North American museum opened at the Montclair Art Museum in October 2012.[18]


Woolfalk has created the world of the Empathics within her work. The Empathics are a fictional race of women who are able to alter their genetic make-up and fuse with plants. With each body of work, Woolfalk continues to build the narrative of these women's lives, and questions the utopian possibilities of cultural hybridity. The Empathics were first on view in Woolfalks first solo show at the Montclair Art Museum in the Fall of 2012.[19]


Woolfalk has been the recipient of the Joan Mitchell MFA fellowship, NFYA fellowship for cross disciplinary and performance work, the "Art Matters" grant, the Franklin Furnace Fund Grant for performance art, and the Deutsche Bank Fellowship Award. Woolfalk has also been the artist in residence for the Studio museum in Harlem, the Newark Museum, Dieu Donne Papermill in New York, NY, the Museum of Arts and Design, the Simons Center for Arts and Geometry in Stony Brook, NY, Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, NY, and Headlands Center for the Arts in California.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Woolfalk is the daughter of a Japanese mother and an African-American and Caucasian father. Her upbringing puts her in a position to chart an expanded definition of cultural diversity.[21]


  1. ^ "Saya Woolfalk". 
  2. ^ Weeden, Leslie (September/October 2015). "Future Perfect". Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 03/11/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  3. ^ (SAIC), School of the Art Institute of Chicago. "Search Results - School of the Art Institute of Chicago". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  4. ^ "New Intuitions: Artists in Residence 2007–08 | The Studio Museum in Harlem". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  5. ^ "MOMA Teens Enliven Clifford Owen's Anthology". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  6. ^ "Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination - Frist Center for the Visual Arts". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  7. ^ "Art on Paper 2006 | Weatherspoon Art Museum". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  8. ^ "Hand+Made: The Performative Impulse in Art and Craft | Contemporary Arts Museum Houston". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  9. ^ "No Place: A Ritual of the Empathic: Saya Woolfalk". Performa. Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 5 April 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2017. 
  10. ^ Holland, Cotter (18 April 2013). "Museum and Gallery Listings for April 19–25". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Art Talk: Saya Woolfalk". Cargo Retrieved 26 October 2016. 
  12. ^ Roberta, Smith (9 September 2008). "A Hot Conceptualist Finds the Secret of Skin". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ Sims, Lowery Stokes (2011). NoPlaceans and Empathics. Hartford: Real Art Ways. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  14. ^ "Art Matters Foundation". Art Matters Foundation. Retrieved 2017-03-04. 
  15. ^ "Newark: Hybrid Cosmology - Performance Art by Saya Woolfalk, Newark, NJ". Yelp. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  16. ^ "Saya Woolfalk Integrates Art, Performance, Detritus of Consumer Society - University at Buffalo". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  17. ^ "Performance Artists". Yaddo. 2016-09-11. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  18. ^ "Saya Woolfalk: The Empathics | Montclair Art Museum". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  19. ^ "Saya Woolfalk". 
  20. ^ "Saya Woolfalk" (PDF). 
  21. ^ Tanguy, Sarah (2010). "The Harmonics of Dislocation..". 

External links[edit]