Latest exhibition in the Law Warschaw Gallery by Stephanie Syjuco


Stephanie Syjuco’s artwork showcased at the Law Warschaw Gallery. Photo by Evelyn Kent ’25.

Evelyn Kent, Staff Writer

Law Warschaw Gallery in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center opened its fall exhibit on Friday Sept. 23, with a mixed media exhibit by Stephanie Syjuco called Blow-Ups, Reprints and Reversals. The exhibit was initially scheduled to run in fall 2020 but was postponed for two years due to the pandemic. Syjuco says that due to the postponing, the exhibit went through additional stages and transformed from the initial iteration into the one being shown now. 

The exhibit features pieces from multiple shows, including full-size prints of certain archival material, smaller checkered headshots, a centered raised platform and a projected five minute video composed of photos. The exhibit centers on the theme of the Filipino and Filipino-American experience, relating to Syjuco’s previous work about decolonizing the history of the Philippines. This project was through the lens of a camera and the archives of the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C., where Syjuco had a research fellowship. 

Along with the official opening of the gallery on Friday night, Syjuco and Dr. Karin Aguilar-San Juan, head of the department of American Studies, gave a talk about the exhibit, as well as the importance of the art for reframing the narrative of Filipino-American history. Syjuco gave an overview about the exhibit as a whole, briefly explaining each piece and her process working within the archives of the Smithsonian.

“I was searching for evidence of my own cultural history,” she said. 

The centerpiece of the exhibit on a wooden platform, called “Partial Anarchival Index (Working Platform),” is a collection and a collage-like presentation of photos from American archives, as well as Kodak color palettes, stones and photos of other media including rocks, minerals, rulers and more. The platform from a distance seems like a messy conglomeration of photographs and pictures, layered together haphazardly on top of a large wooden stage. Upon further inspection, however, the intentional layering becomes apparent, with certain photos blown up to become grainy, while others are sharp and clear. Photos of native plants to the Philippines and landscapes are mixed with portraits and archival photos of Filipino people, with some components layered on top of each other obscuring details, words and faces.

The rest of the pieces in the exhibition take inspiration from the Smithsonian’s American archives, where Syjuco had a fellowship. The art asks us to reimagine the way that we interact with archival photographs and documents, and how we can reinterpret history not to bring up and relive violence and oppression, two large parts of Filipino-American history as well as U.S. history.

On one wall, a print of a stack of records and newspaper clippings, the contents of a file folder, is another example of Syjuco’s desire to change the narrative of history. Titled “Reverse View: KKK,” the piece is a photograph of the contents of a file folder about the Ohio chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Syjuco asks the viewer to reimagine how we interact with something as difficult as the United States’ history of human exploitation, and instead of giving power to white supremacist ideas and violence through headlines or photos in the folder, she reverses its contents. The piece attempts to discontinue the cycle of violence. 

In the back corner there is a projector that shows the same five minute loop of photos, entitled “Block Out the Sun.” Every time the slide changes and a new photo shows, there is a sharp shutter sound, which echoes through the room. The video shows photos of people, buildings and other evidence of human habitation obscured partially or completely in each photo by Syjuco’s hand. 

The photos themselves are a part of the Smithsonian archives and are evidence of the faux Filipino village shown at the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis, Missouri. The exhibit in the World’s Fair was called a “human zoo” and was intended to show Americans what life was like in the Philippines, an American colony at the time. It demonstrates a group of people and a culture as a spectacle of human amusement.

“It’s actually about the white gaze on the Philippines,” Syjuco said.

Seeking to challenge the story told by these photos and interrupt the perpetuation of violence and harm, Syjuco covered up various parts of the photos, placing her hand across peoples faces, bodies and sometimes most of the photo. The contrast between her hand and the historical look of the photos is striking, and you can see from the edges of the photo that there are people being covered, but their identity and their objectification in this “zoo” is changed. 

“By physically blocking the images with my hands, I attempted a direct way of intervening in an archive, thwarting the viewer’s ability to fully consume the people and faces on display … my own body, sitting in the archives, becoming both a temporary shield and a marker of defiance, while at the same time acknowledging that the images remain,” Syjuco wrote in her artist’s statement.

On two of the walls are grainy headshots, blown up to be the size of a normal head, and placed on the wall about where the people might have stood. The photos are pixelated photos of men, women and children and come from a brochure from the 1904 World’s Fair, with the people photographed being a part of the “Filipino Village” as well. The photos have passed through many iterations of print and objectification, and the final distorted view of them literally brings the viewer face to face with this history. She calls them “Witnesses,” as they witness not only their own history, but also the viewer’s. 

The exhibit calls for a return to the history of American colonialism and imperialism in Asia and the Philippines, but also calls for a reinterpretation of the history of Filipino-Americans and demonstrates a contemporary way of looking at the past.

Syjuco says her goal is to bring back some of the subject’s humanity and respond to the stories told about American and Filipino history. 

[email protected]