NXTHVN displays ‘Field Notes from the Empathic Universe’
Saya Woolfalk's solo exhibition colorfully blends fantasy and reality through mixed-media portraits and an immersive installation.
Courtesy of Chris Gardner
NXTHVN will display “Field Notes from the Empathic Universe,” a solo exhibition showcasing the works of Saya Woolfalk, from Sept. 23 to Nov. 19.
The exhibition features an immersive video installation, alongside a series of new mixed-media collages, all of which portray “Empathics” — fictional futuristic beings who traverse time and change form while roaming infinite realms. These beings embody a multitude of cultures and species, combining the genetic material of humans, other animals and even plants.
“Woolfalk’s exploration across a hybrid of global traditions aligns perfectly with our work bringing together and uplifting artists from a wide range of backgrounds. I’m excited to see how Woolfalk’s transformation of our space immerses visitors in her multicultural world,” Kalia Brooks, director of programs and exhibitions at NXTHVN, wrote to the News.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a four-channel immersive video installation titled “Cloudscape.” Plant forms, digitally constructed portraits and landscape fragments envelop the visitor, while soft meditative music plays in the background.
“Field Notes from the Empathic Universe” even extends outside of the gallery space, with digitally-collaged murals covering the elevator and outer walls of NXTHVN.
“Humanity, spirituality, and nature are fused together in a meditative spirit. Being able to draw from [Woolfalk’s] art — all of the humanity and nature in it, the calmness and the peace of it — that’s what’s so inspiring to me,” said Agnes Jackson, a gallery attendant at NXTHVN.
This installation was previously shown in 2021 at the Newark Art Museum, where Woolfalk explored their plant specimens, or herbaria, and landscape painting collections and their intersections with American identity.
Saya Woolfalk, born in Japan in 1979 and currently based in Brooklyn, New York, previously studied at Brown University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning a bachelor’s degree in visual art and economics and a master’s of fine arts in sculpture from the respective institutions.
Drawing influence from her African American, European American and Japanese backgrounds, Woolfalk explores a breadth of subjects through her artistic endeavors: science fiction, feminist theory, mythology, anthropology, archaeology, Eastern religion and fashion.
Through various artistic mediums, including painting, sculpture, video, performance, multimedia installations and public art, she has created a whimsical utopia over a series of exhibitions spanning nine years.
Alongside the exhibition, NXTHVN has hosted various events, including a panel discussion titled “Afrofuturism and Visual Culture” on Oct. 14, as a part of the “Into the Afroverse” summit.
Various speakers, including Woolfalk herself, discussed Afrofuturism, an art movement that combines elements of current technology and science fiction with the history and culture of the African diaspora.
Reynaldo Anderson, a professor of Africology and African American studies at Temple University and executive director and co-founder of the Black Speculative Arts Movement, delivered the welcome address at the event and later shared his thoughts on the exhibition with the News.
“Saya Woolfolk’s art, when it intersects with Afrofuturism, generates a critical metamodernist approach that borrows or fuses elements of African diaspora aesthetics in the area of science fiction or fantasy, from the past, present, and future, and visually captures how people of African descent locate themselves in time and space with agency,” Anderson wrote to the News.
NXTHVN is free and open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, from 2 to 6 p.m.