Shuoran Zhou was born in Beijing, China, and is an artist currently located in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated with a BFA in Oil Painting from China Academy of Art in 2019, and an MFA in Studio art from Syracuse University. Shuoran’s work has been exhibited internationally in China, Spain, Belgium, the United States, as well as in several online exhibitions including ones juried by Robert Ebendorf and Laura Kalman. Aside from being an artist, Shuoran is currently teaching introductory jewelry classes and beading classes at Brooklyn Metal Works and 92NY.
Tell us about your work:
My work addresses my personal struggles and deals with stereotypes toward women, and aims to provoke introspection toward the entrenched, stereotypical assumptions. I derive inspiration from my confrontational relationship with my mother, which arises from our differing perspectives and beliefs regarding the roles and aspirations of women. Originated from these confrontations, my work embodies the assumptions and norms that affect my life. I make wearable objects mainly using seed beads to visualize these issues through craft and the property of the material itself, with the hope of resonating with people who have similar struggles to mine and advocating women’s autonomy.
How did you start your metalsmithing/materialsmithing/adornment journey?
I had been studying painting and drawing for 7 years until my senior year. I majored in oil painting in my undergrad and found that a two-dimensional form of art is not for me. There is always too much freedom when it comes to creating a painting or drawing, as there is no absolute right and wrong. No limitation became my biggest limitation. As I shifted my focus to a material and craft-based industry, there are always rules to follow in terms of the fabrication of materials. Once I know what I cannot do, or in what order I should do certain things, these solid rules helped me become much more creative and allowed me to thrive in my art practice.
How does your identity relate to your work? If at all?
As a woman who used to firmly believe that she would be completely straight for her entire life and ended up having a 4-year-long relationship with another woman, I learned to break my own stubbornness and fixed mindset toward many things in my life. After “surprising” myself with that homosexual relationship, I learned how perspective really plays a role in how we present ourselves and perceive what is going on in the world. I started thinking a lot about the oppressions, stereotypes and norms that women have been undergoing this whole time, and looking back, I realized that I was one of the women who believed what that society wished for me to believe for the first 20 years of my life. When we talk about liberation, it always comes down to the freedom of choice; but how could one possibly make a choice when being unaware of “the other options”? I want to embody my own stories in art and use it as a voice to help other people achieve the realization of the freedom of choosing options they might not know they have.
What are the main concepts in your work?
As can be seen, the forms of my work vary. However, they are all centered around the core idea of provoking introspection toward gender stereotypes and expectations. The headpiece Absent (image 1) embodies the erosion of a woman’s individuality caused by the expected roles that she did not, and may never fulfill. I relate people’s unconsciously repeating expressions of their assumptions and expectations to the repetitive motion of beading. Each bead is hand-stitched, while at a distance the finished piece looks like a mass-produced textile. This piece brings up a discussion about consciousness and unconsciousness.
The handpiece Here (image 2) is a gift for my mom, the woman who I have a confrontational relationship with. Although there are tensions in our relationship, I still wish to support, understand, and encourage her not only as a daughter, but more importantly as a woman. This piece serves as a reminder of one’s presence–it occupies both palms and has a mirror covered with a bead net which allures the viewer to look at their reflection with full attention, and aims to encourage my mother to spend a minute with just herself, detaching with the roles she’s been closely tied to for many years. At this moment, she is not someone’s mother, nor someone’s wife, but only herself.
Cradle (image 3) is meant to provoke a discussion about the valuation of a woman’s life—is parenting the most and only valuable pursuit for a woman? I stitched the beads into hollow stone-like forms representing womanhood and formed silver into crystal-like forms representing women’s offspring. In the series, the stone-like forms can be worn as brooches, pendants, and rings, if the crystals are detached from them. Contrary to beads, silver is always regarded as a precious and orthodox material in the jewelry industry. However, in this instance, the silver crystals are the components that obstruct the wearability, implying that having children may hinder or limit other possibilities in women’s lives.
In short, I always want my work to have a thought-provoking impact on the viewers, an impact that hopefully will make a difference in how people consider the topic of gender, starting from the perspective of women.
Can you share a bit about your conceptual development?
For me, the hardest part of my art practice has always been translating the language of conceptual ideas into the language of materials. Ideas are abstract and literal, while materials are the opposite most of the time. Although I would feel anxious about not getting the “Aha” moment soon enough, the good ones take time and I would tell myself not to rush. Magically, those moments always come in very unexpectedly–I could be walking, eating, watching a movie, talking to somebody, or simply just zoning out, and suddenly a solution just occurred in my mind and it always prove to be the right one. I like to call them “the clicking moments” because it feels like the gears of thinking in my mind are finally clicked into the right places and start to run smoothly.
How do you take a break and reset?
I take breaks when I feel I need to, usually after finishing major projects. I have always been a productive artist, known as tireless and the one who works and produces nonstop. I would say that it is partially because of schooling, as I always need to present a decent amount of new work to the professors. Usually, I give myself breaks that are 1-3 months long between projects. At first, I felt guilty for resting, but later I realized that taking breaks are not being lazy, on the contrary, it is beneficial for my next art production.
What is your favorite tool, material, or process?
Right now they are tweezer with a shovel, glass seed beads, and right-angle weave.
What do you want to see in the field in order for it be more supportive?
I think the community is already very supportive and encouraging as it should be. There is for sure always room for improvement, but at this point I am grateful and content with the way it is
*** All interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity