ArtSEA: A ‘Phantom Flag’ drained of its color at the Frye

Plus, five festivals to check out this weekend, and the final show at a beloved gallery.

A person's hands cover a black-and-white image

Stephanie Syjuco’s show at the Frye Art Museum, After/Images, uses the language of photography to upend the depiction of colonized peoples, cultures and American mythmaking. (Courtesy Catharine Clark Gallery, RYAN LEE Gallery, Silverlens Gallery, Stephanie Syjuco)

In the entry rotunda of the Frye Art Museum, visitors are currently greeted by a giant American flag composed of sheer black silk chiffon. Stripped of its patriotic red, white and blue and wavering in the museum air, the flag appears solemn and in mourning. 

Manila-born and Oakland-based artist Stephanie Syjuco made the piece — “Phantom Flag” — in 2017 after President Donald J. Trump rescinded Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), legislation that protected undocumented people who had been brought into the United States as children (his rescission has since been overturned). As a professor at UC Berkeley and an immigrant from the Philippines, Syjuco saw the anguish the repeal brought to her students and transformed it into the flag.

“When I developed ‘Phantom Flag,’ I was thinking through this notion of rescinding a promise of the United States, of becoming a citizen or being accepted here,” she said at the press preview. “I see this flag as a shadow of itself, drained of that colorful promise. [The American flag] can mean many things to different people, but I look at it as a very delicate object.”

Another show highlight is “Dodge and Burn (Visible Storage),” a wooden stage filled with stock images, emojis and mannequins wearing Western and traditional Filipino garb as a reference to the ways America theatrically presents its own history. (Courtesy the Frye Art Museum, Stephanie Syjuco)

It’s one of several pieces in Syjuco’s new show After/Images (through Sept. 8) that deftly explore how America shapes its own meaning of citizenship, history and belonging through what it chooses to remember. Digging deep into the archives of museums, she uses the language of photography — Photoshop, chroma-key green, color-calibration charts, and the like — to interrupt the depiction of colonized peoples, cultures and American mythmaking.

An example: In “Set Up (The Broncho Buster 1),” Syjuco offers a new view of Frederic Remington’s famous bronze bucking-bronco sculptures. She photographed the cowboy figure facing away from the viewer, riding off into the sunset, and set against a satiny black backdrop. Also in the picture: a hand holding up a measuring tape. Whereas the image of the cowboy looms large in the American psyche, the tape reads 24 inches tall. Not so big indeed.

Syjuco’s exploration of the United States’ colonization of the Philippines is another through line in this show. One gallery features carceral ethnographic photos taken by American colonists of native Filipinos in the early 20th century. Instead of leaving these mugshot-like images as they were, Syjuco went in with the Photoshop “healing” tool to “liberate,” she says, the Filipinos from their demeaning photos, leaving instead a blurry afterimage on the background.

“These photographs that were made over 100 years ago,” said Syjuco on the recent walk through, “if they still come to define a community over 100 years later, is there any way out of that? Can we somehow see ourselves differently?”

Khambatta Dance Company and Newport Contemporary Ballet are some of the artists performing at the Seattle International Dance Festival, June 8-16. (Jim Coleman)

As we ease ourselves into June, we’re stepping into festival season — so it’s not surprising that in this next week we have not one, not two, but at least five noteworthy festivals across town.

Starting off strong is TRANSlations (June 6-9 online, June 7-8 in person) — the 19th annual edition of one of only nine trans film festivals in the world — featuring over 70 films screening around town. There are some killer features like TOPS, a comedic documentary about top surgery that satirizes early 2000s British reality television, but I’d also heartily recommend the fest’s short film programs, like “The Midnight Realm” (horror) or “Besties Are Forever” (on friendship). Follow your bliss!

The Georgetown Carnival (June 8) is back once again with all manner of wacky shenanigans. From noon to 10 p.m. in downtown Georgetown, you can listen to the musical stylings of bands like Day Soul Exquisite and Zookraught; get your face painted or your tarot cards read; pay tribute to Seattle’s favorite clown, JP Patches; and laze about in two beer gardens. New this year is the Art Chop, where artists will go head to head in a battle against the clock, making art on the spot.

For those wanting to chill by a body of water this weekend, consider the Seattle Dragon Boat Festival (June 8, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.) at Lake Union Park. From the shore you’ll witness several colorful boat races alongside performances by cultural groups like the International Lion Dance Team and the Filipino Community Seattle Dance Troupe.

If you’re purely looking to chow down, head on over to the Polish Home Association for their annual Pierogi Fest (June 8, noon - 4 p.m.), featuring a delicious array of pierogies, Polish beers, and Polish dogs as well as a performance by the Polish Choir Vivat Musica.

Alternatively, there’s the Seattle International Dance Festival (June 8-16) at Broadway Performance Hall. For nine days, the fest is bringing together local, national and international dancers from more than 20 companies. Check out Mumbai-based Sumeet Nagdev Dance Arts’ exploration of caste in India (June 9) or the Polish Luminski Dance Project and its two works centered on change, truth, community (June 14).

Mad Studio is MadArt Studio’s last exhibition before it officially closes its doors this summer. (Courtesy James Harnois, MadArt)

A few more things to check out this week:

MadArt Studio in South Lake Union is (very sadly) closing up shop. For the final exhibition, MAD STUDIO (June 7 - July 13), the gallery invited all 84 past MadArt artists to propose a piece that extended the concept of their original MadArt show. The result features 51 works by 56 artists including Jite Agbro, Henry Jackson-Spieker, Ian McMahon and Maja Petric. Go, shed a tear, and admire art in the space for one last time.

< You may know “indie sleaze,” but have you met “Prestige Sleaze”? SIFF has curated a steamy, thrilling film programming series (June 8-15) around movies that have provoked, tantalized and pushed the boundaries of the silver screen. Among the flicks screening this weekend are two of my favorites — car-crash erotic thriller Crash and lesbian romance and crime drama Bound.

< Nothing says early summer quite like sweating out your hairdo on the dance floor! This Saturday, Emerald City Soul Club is taking over The Rendezvous for their Soulstice (*wink*) celebration (June 8, 9 p.m. - 1:45 a.m.). ECSC’s elite cadre of DJs will spin soul, R&B, funk and disco deep cuts on vinyl until the wee hours – so better stretch beforehand!

< As Pacific Northwest Ballet wraps up the 2023-24 season, it’s time for beloved principal dancer James Yoichi Moore to bid the company adieu after 20 years. At the Season Encore Performance (June 9 at 6:30 p.m.), Moore will perform excerpts from a few career highlights including The Calling, Roméo et Juliette, and Mopey.

Reminder: Black Arts Legacies: Season 3 is still rolling with weekly reveals of past and present creatives who’ve made a meaningful impact on the Seattle arts scene. Missed this week’s reveal? Watch our video profile of tap dancer Cipher Goings, who discovered his calling at age 7 and has since become a teacher and part of tap’s growing renaissance.

Sign up for the Black Arts Legacies newsletter to be among the first to discover each new artist in this year’s cohort.

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