Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Kathy Aoki

Kathy Aoki

Kathy Aoki received her M.F.A. in printmaking from Washington University in St. Louis in 1994. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of SFMoMA, the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, the Harvard University Art Museums, and the City of Seattle. Past exhibitions have been held in San Francisco; Las Vegas; Seattle; Minneapolis; NYC; Kobe, Japan; and Quito, Ecuador.

Past grants include a strategic planning grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI), an Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council Silicon Valley, a public art grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission's Art on Market Street Program, and a Women's Studio Workshop Artist Book Production Grant.

Aoki has participated in artist residencies at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito; the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley; Djerassi in Woodside; the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire; and the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. Her recent series, “The Museum of Historical Makeovers,” includes pieces inspired by her residency in Paris.

Aoki currently lives and works in Santa Clara, California, where she is an Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Santa Clara University.
In her recent “Museum of Historical Makeovers” series, Aoki takes on the aesthetics of historical illustration and ancient artifacts, while preserving her favorite themes of gender, beauty and cute culture consumerism. In her invented, pseudo-museum experience set in the future (the early 4th millennium), Aoki presents us with imagery that looks antique but actually depicts current beauty treatments and pop culture figures.

In her own artistic makeover, Aoki creates hand-printed etchings after famous surgical paintings by Eakins and Rembrandt. The scenes, drawn with crosshatching and aquatint grays, depict currently popular-yet-preposterous beauty procedures such as the Brazilian waxing method and anal bleaching.

Similarly, Aoki’s French drawings have the look of illustrations from French philosopher Diderot’s Encyclopedie, a mid-eighteenth century multi-volume publication, which attempted to explain everything. Aoki implies that the drawings, which feature beauty processes such as lip-plumping and lower back tattooing, may have been intended to be part of Diderot’s publication, but were lost - only to be discovered over a thousand years later and acquired by the “Museum of Historical Makeovers.”

One of the most creative installations in Aoki’s faux museum is the archeological “discovery” of the Egyptian style burial tombs of pop singer Gwen Stefani and her back-up dancers, the Harajuku girls. Aoki elevates Stefani’s status to pharaoh; false artifacts, such as alabaster coasters and “stone” tablets, are covered with custom hieroglyphics. Aoki even goes so far as to provide educational guides that explain the symbols on the “artifacts” and provides analysis of the Stefani cartouche. The Stefani archeological installation also features a mini-tomb room, where viewers can peek in to see the Stefani sarcophagus. The museum-style labeling, maps and objects all poke fun at pop culture and beauty consumerism.

Prior to the “Museum of Historical Makeovers,” Aoki focused on a series entitled “The Construction of Modern Girlhood,” which featured anime-style girl construction workers who enslaved teddy bears. These “Girlhood” works on paper, sculptures, wall installation, and prints created a visual metaphor describing how the media affects girls. Other past themes in Aoki’s work include “Women as Superheroes Based on Their Vocational Skills,” Women with Tools as a Phallic Metaphor,” and “Men’s Housekeeping.”

View Kathy Aoki's CV (PDF)

Chia GwenStela (Angel Harajuku girl)Canopic Jars (of Gwen Stefani)Gwen Stefani Grand Burial Exhibition (a.k.a. the "Tomb Room")The BrazilianTatouage Bas du Dos (or Lower Back Tattoo)Le Sac a Main le Plus "Juicy" (or the Juiciest Handbag)

San Francisco Bay Area, California


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