Stephanie Syjuco, The Visible Invisible


By art21. At work in her Berkeley studio, Stephanie Syjuco navigates the deeply embedded visual tropes of American history applied in her practice. Describing the shift in priorities associated with progressing in a career as an artist, Syjuco notes a correlation in time spent between project management and art making. “My reality is,” she says, “it’s a lot more paperwork than I wish it were.” To center herself, Syjuco spends time in her garden, harvesting vegetables and “empire crops”—such as tobacco, corn, cotton, and indigo—as part of her research into colonialism and the writing of American history. Preparing an installation for the Renwick Invitational at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Syjuco lays out garment patterns for creating American-prairie- and Civil-War-antebellum style dresses. Though self-admittedly not historically accurate, the dresses serve to act as signifiers, conjuring images of specific time periods in American history, as well as the tropes of womanhood, Western expansion, and Puritanism that viewers may associate with such garments. The dresses are made with a chroma key green fabric, a color typically used as a temporary backdrop for photo and video shoots—replaced in post-production and never intended to be seen. “The idea of American history is so embedded in our national psyche that it’s almost invisible,” says Syjuco. “It’s like manifesting ghosts, hauling forward all of this American history.” Stephanie Syjuco was born in Manila, Philippines, in 1974. Syjuco works in photography, sculpture, and installation, moving from handmade and craft-inspired mediums to digital editing. Her work explores the tension between the authentic and the counterfeit, challenging deep-seated assumptions about history, race, and labor.

Cite this page as: Art21, "Stephanie Syjuco, The Visible Invisible," in Smarthistory, January 15, 2021, accessed June 19, 2024,