Known for her signature embroidered photographs, Han Cao (previously) examines intersecting ideas of identity, memory, and nostalgia. In her new body of work, the artist begins with vintage images, replacing faces and garments with flowery landscapes and sweeping skies.
Comprising the exhibition Silhouettes at Paradigm Gallery + Studio, the portraits overflow with foliage, storm surf, and bucolic meadows. The show marks a new direction for Cao’s practice, expanding her interest in introspection and internalization, especially over time. She explores “how our sense of self can be affected by memory, social structures, and a connection to nature,” says a statement.
For the first time, Cao has produced double-portraits that incorporate the same photographs, scaled up and applied with the same embroidery patterns as the smaller original. She draws attention to the materiality of fiber, emphasizing how its detail and immediacy read differently depending on the size, inviting the viewer to consider similarities and differences between nearly identical representations.
Replacing faces with trees, fields, and surging waves, Cao visualizes the metaphorical emotional capacity of each figure, likening the depths of their memories, feelings, and thoughts to traversable terrain that is deep and lush with color. Cao says, “I am always trying to change the story of the photo, but this method allows me to transport the figure into a different world.”
Silhouettes is on view in Philadelphia through October 1. You can view and purchase pieces on the gallery’s website, and find more work from Cao on her site and Instagram.