FAYE ZHANG - Evolution of a Language
|Word Path (front view, top, and
detail), 2000; handwoven linen, ramie, and cotton tapestry
with painting on warp; 5 by 10 feet. Photo is by the
Faye Zhang works out of a studio in the hills
of San Francisco, yet her weavings reflect diverse cultures.
Her proficiently and laboriously crafted works draw inspiration
from classical Chinese opera, the traditional performing
and visual arts of Asia, and written languages of many lands.
She is fond of supplementary wefts, dense tapestry
weaves, and double weaves richly detailed on both sides. She
also has a striking command of color and utilizes tonal variations
to produce a sense of depth or fluidity. Her varied and vivid
palette - fiery reds and oranges, earthen browns and golds,
and watery blues - evokes the elements, while her opulent
application of shimmering metallic yarns gives her works the
semblance of fine brocades reserved for royalty or celestial
Measuring 5 feet high by 10 feet wide and double
sided, the impressive Word Path addresses the evolution of
language and also pays homage to the calligraphy and landscape
painting of Zhang's homeland - she is originally from China.
Configured like a folding screen, each side consists of three
panels joined by vertical strips. The frontal piece is a tapestry
weave depicting a giant spiral (symbolizing energy, momentum,
and growth), laced with characters from cuneiform, Korean,
Japanese, Chinese, and Native American writing and letters
from the Russian and Arabic alphabets. A portion of the warp
remains unwoven to reveal the textile on the other side.
Its partner, a plain weave, portrays several high
pinnacles reminiscent of the famed karst formations near Guilin
in southern China. However, these peaks - unlike those of
the classical brush paintings that inspired Zhang - are composed
of hundreds of letters and characters.
Zhang began studying fiber art less than a decade
ago. As a teenager, she dreamed of being a writer, hoping
to follow in the steps of her father, a playwright and theater
director. To gather material, she decided to become a lawyer.
"I thought I'd encounter interesting stories and
have lots to write about," she said. "But at that time, in
China, you couldn't go to college directly out of high school.
You had to work for a factory or farm. If you proved politically
correct, the party would let you continue your education."
Zhang was dispatched to an industrial textile
factory for 3-1/2 years - until China's policies changed and
she was finally allowed to take a qualifying exam for law
school. After obtaining degrees in family and international
law, she was appointed assistant professor at Shanghai's East
China Law and Politics Institute.
In 1987, she immigrated with her husband to the
United States. She did legal research and later, taking a
hiatus from law, had a baby. However, when her son turned
four, she enrolled in art school. She initially studied fashion
design but eventually developed an interest in fabric. She
soon learned to weave, and even her earliest works demonstrated
a distinctive style.
In 1994, she created 14 weavings based on Chinese
opera warrior masks. By 1996, she was already experimenting
with language, fashioning textiles after ancient pictographs
on Chinese oracle bones. Subsequent pieces have been modeled
after Hawaiian petroglyphs and stone tablets of the Naxi,
a Chinese national minority. She also has made some lively
Presently completing her M.F.A. at San Francisco
State University, Zhang is finishing up her most ambitious
and sumptuous work to date, Blue Bird, a double weave comprising
92 blue and silver panels. It bears a poem comparing love
to a wave, written in Chinese calligraphy and English. She
will present it in an installation alongside three handmade
books of poetry.
-- Victoria Alba
Faye Zhang's URL is http://www.wovenscreen.com/.
Victoria Alba is a freelance arts writer in
the San Francisco Bay Area.