Joanna Tam

Faculty: Studio Foundation

Visibility Studies (Nature Inspired) is part of my larger body of work that examines the meaning of hypervisibility and invisibility pertaining to safety and vulnerability. While it is crucial to increase the visibility of folks at the margins, it is not that simple. To some, being visible in public spaces could potentially put them in danger due to systemic oppression and inequalities. For instance, the history and stories of Asian Americans have been erased and silenced for a long time in this country. Asian people are invisible until they are hypervisible to become the scapegoated “other.” This happened to Japanese Americans during WWII, South Asians after 9/11, and East Asians during the Covid-19 pandemic. What does safety mean? Who is safety for? I approach my inquiry by making blankets from used safety vests (to represent hypervisibility and safety) and green screen material (to represent invisibility). In this video, I take cues from the coloration and mimicry strategies in the natural world to suggest the need to assimilate and not be seen as a means for survival to people in marginalized communities.

*The animal photographs used in the video are purchased from a stock photo agency.

Joanna Tam is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice examines migration, construction of national identity, and the idea of safety. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include American Studies 2019 at the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and Wasenstraße Story at Chrom VI in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, the Boston Art Review, Artscope, and Emergency Index.