San Francisco

A Woman You Thought You Knew

Chitra Ganesh, Liz Hernández, Lotus L. Kang, Candice Lin, Helina Metaferia, Citra Sasmita, Kelly Sinnapah Mary, Sin Wai Kin, and Tomoko Yoneda

A Woman You Thought You Knew brings together works from the KADIST collection that explore world-building as a means to resist, transform, and anchor historical junctures into the contemporary. The works examine intersectional narratives of the construction and deconstruction of gender, womanhood, and femininity, with trans perspectives and the racialized subject. They bring forth overlooked or unwritten stories of women’s role in history, memorializing narratives of women’s labor histories, and dislodging them from conventional records. The exhibition draws from literature and storytelling through accounts of utopia, science fiction, and mythology to underscore feminist perspectives in history and what we can learn from these narratives today to achieve a post-patriarchal future. 

In Timur Merah Project II; The Harbor of Restless Spirit (2019), Citra Sasmita subverts the stories and myths of Hindu-Javanese epics where she replaces the princes, kings, warriors, and other male heroes of Sanskrit epics with the figure of a woman to destabilize the male gaze of the female body–as passive, ornamental, or sexual. Sasmita references the style of traditional Balinese Kamasan paintings, a craft where women were designated to subsidiary roles, and thus written out of national art historical canons. Painted on a stretched cowhide and anchored to a pool of pungent turmeric—an herb known for healing and vitality, Sasmita endows her female protagonists with powerful agency. The work challenges the patriarchal nature of society and rebukes the pervasive sexual and social inequality ingrained in art history. 

Similarly, foregrounding histories of female labor, Candice Lin’s Wigan Pit-Brow Women: Intersections with the Caribbean (2015) explores the objectification of female laborers’ in the 1960s. The sculptural mobile references Victorian writer Arthur Munby’s sketches of the coal mine laborers’ in the 1960s. Comprising cutouts of tropical plants and so-called pit-brow women performing primal acts traditionally associated with savagery, the sculpture reveals how the laborers’ femininity and modesty were scrutinized while toiling in life-threatening situations. Tell me everything you saw, and what you think it means (2018) and A woman you thought you knew (2017) by Sin Wai Kin and Monumento a la mujer de las dos almas (Monument to the Two-Soul Woman) (2023) by Liz Hernández adopt artistic personas to unlearn and interrogate societal norms, and challenge the notion that identity and gender is static. Sin’s work further deconstructs patriarchy, colonialism, and ableism through a non-binary and transgender subjectivity. 

Tomoko Yoneda’s Japanese House Series (2010) bears witness to domesticity and household labor and invites contemplation on the lingering consequences of colonialism. The photographs depict buildings constructed in Taiwan during the period of Japanese occupation, between 1895 and 1945, focusing on both the original Japanese features of the houses and on details that have been altered since the end of the occupation. Lotus L. Kang’s Scaffold (2022) is an ode to diasporic experiences and immigrant women’s labor. Folded layers of burlap sheets, a humble material commonly found at construction sites or markets in Korea, are anchored by a string of aluminum cast lotus roots, a common ingredient in Korean cuisine. 

Other works employ literature, fairy tales, and feminist science fiction to illustrate and reimagine a more just future. Chitra Ganesh’s series of linocut prints, Sultana’s Dream (2018) depicts scenes of protest, Hindu myths, and dreamscapes, in an alternative future. Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s Notebook 10, l’enfance de sanbras (2021) tells the childhood tale of Sanbras, who serves as a metaphor for the construction of the identity of Indian workers who arrived in the Caribbean during the post-slavery period. Sinnapah Mary intertwines both real and imagined worlds creating narrative vessels that carry tales of strength, resilience, and adaptation. In the exhibition, the tapestries are erected as tents for spaces of play, imagination, and refuge. Helina Metaferia’s Tapestry (Gewel) (2023) echoes African American quilting traditions, which historically have centered storytelling and community building amongst women. The tapestry features silk-screened archives of American civil rights protests, scanned from library archives, and addresses the inherited histories of protest that inform contemporary social movements.

A Woman You Thought You Knew explores the complex, diverse, and resilient spirit of women, feminist, and trans perspectives, inviting viewers to reflect on the past and challenge the present in order to construct a more equitable future. The exhibition is complemented by Worlds World Worlds in The Screening Room. The exhibition draws on shared themes across the KADIST collection and aims to make the breadth and diversity of over 2,200 artworks representing over 1,400 artists at KADIST’s hubs in Paris and San Francisco. The exhibition is co-curated by Shona Mei Findlay (Curator of Asia Programs, KADIST San Francisco) and Lauren Pirritano (Collection Manager, KADIST San Francisco) and borrows its title from a work by Sin Wai Kin.

Exhibition identity by GRL GRP.