Race, Identity and Social Media Inform San Antonio Artist Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s ‘Girl You Can’

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JENNIFER LING DATCHUK
  • Jennifer Ling Datchuk
Local artist Jennifer Ling Datchuk unapologetically admits that she’s obsessed with Instagram. A Southwest School of Art professor who specializes in ceramics (and porcelain in particular), Datchuk scrolls through posts, studies selfies, and finds fascination in the ways people present ideas of beauty within the realm of social media. Most recently, her obsession has sharpened in focus on a popular hashtag synonymous with puckered lips, pumpkin spice lattes and yoga pants: #BasicBitch.

The daughter of a Chinese immigrant mother and an Ohio-born father of Russian and Irish descent, Datchuk knew from an early age that her family was different. “I’ve been asked ‘What are you?’ my whole life,” she says, noting the ways kids in school treated her differently because she didn’t look “white enough.” But for Datchuk, the challenges of growing up biracial were also felt at home. Among her Chinese relatives, she was the family member that was “too white” and never “Chinese enough” for full acceptance. Forced to navigate these two worlds from an early age, Datchuk is still figuring out her place in the world as she moves through adulthood. But as this year’s recipient of the American Craft Council’s Emerging Voices Award, it’s clear that she’s finding her footing in the art world just fine.

Stemming from residency experiences in the Netherlands, China and Germany (as part of Blue Star Contemporary’s Berlin Residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien), Datchuk’s latest body of work, “Girl You Can” combines “porcelain, blue-and-white patterns, stereotypically Asian motifs, textiles, video and photography” in a visual commentary on the complexities of a unified American identity and issues of individuality, acceptance and appropriation. Placing emphasis on how we, as an American society, often question the authenticity of the people and things we encounter on social media, “Girl You Can” questions why we fail to demand the same credibility from what we consume. “Conceived before the November 2016 election, but created in the aftermath,” the collection reflects on the repercussions of a nationwide identity crisis and the rejection of the “other.”

As a biracial artist, Datchuk is highly aware that she opens herself up to criticism of her own authenticity, but the drive to express her authentic self is exactly what pushes her to continue exploring new media and stories. This year, she says she’s practiced checking her own feminism, another theme explored in “Girl You Can,” and strives to make art that can empower young women. It’s this method of thinking that led to her #BasicBitch obsession. Seeing women take ownership of “basic bitch” and turn it into a phrase of empowerment on social media spoke loudly to Datchuk, earning the phrase a focal point in her solo exhibition.

‘Girl You Can’
Free, walk-through with the artist at 4:30pm, opening reception 5-7pm Thu, Oct. 26 (on view through Dec. 9), Trinity University, Dicke Art Building, Michael and Noemi Neidorff Art Gallery, One Trinity Pl., (210) 227-6960, bluestarcontemporary.org.


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