Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Visual Arts 2013

Wu Tsang

A black and white side angle portrait of Wu Tsang against a grey background. She has an undercut and a high bun and is wearing a black fur jacket.
Photo by Graeme Mitchell.
  • 2013 Grants to Artists
  • Visual Arts
  • Artist, Filmmaker, Performer
  • Born Worcester, MA, 1984
  • Lives in Los Angeles, CA

Thanks to FCA, my artistic career has been transformed. I have been able to commit to more exhibition opportunities and take on more ambitious projects. Your generous grant provided me with the invaluable gift of time, which I used to launch a full-time artistic career.

- Wu Tsang, January 1, 2014

Artist Statement

My work takes different forms, mostly film and performance. A central theme in my work is the "voice" as a metaphor to explore questions of representation such as “who is speaking for whom?" and "whose voices are heard, whose are silenced?" I studied bel canto opera technique, and learned how the medium of voice relates to the body and affect. I'm also informed by working as a grass-roots organizer and being involved with social justice movements. Living in Los Angeles defines my practice because I draw inspiration from civic life and the landscape. Being "trans" or GNC (gender non-conforming) can be challenging because people want to peg it as an identity group rather than see it as a shifting strategy of resistance. I dislike the word visibility, perhaps because for me it evokes the rhetoric of assimilation, as if the goal of trans movements were about being "seen" and gaining acceptance from society—I don't subscribe to that.

Through making the documentary Wildness, I had to confront the representation of "minorities" in mainstream film. The main challenge of representing my experience was finding a way to convey complexity and difference without alienating audiences who could not readily identify. Wildness took four years to make as it evolved from an observational documentary into a scripted film. I collaborated with my co-writer Roya Rastegar and actress Mariana Marroquin to create the voice of the Silver Platter. This voice became the key to telling the story in a way that was accessible and broadened our perspectives. The Silver Platter plays an elder/parent to my character, who nurtures me but also teaches me hard lessons when I make mistakes. At it's heart, I think Wildness is a coming of age story, which uses magical realism to expose the fine line between the fantasy of social movements and the harsh reality of putting ideas into practice as a young activist.

- December 2012


Wu Tsang is a multimedia artist and filmmaker. Her work explores issues of transgender identity and queer communities. Her projects include Mishima in Mexico, Tied and True, Shape of a Right Statement, Damelo Todo, Breakdown, Green Room, For how we perceived a life (Take 3), Full Body Quotation performance at Performa 11, and P.I.G. (Politically Involved Girls). Her short You're Dead to Me premiered on PBS and won the 2014 Imagen Award for Best Short. In 2012, Tsang released her first feature, Wildness. The film features the Silver Platter, a bar on the east side of Los Angeles that has catered to the Latin immigrant and queer community since 1963. Wildness premiered at The Museum of Modern Art's Documentary Fortnight in 2012, and Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary in Toronto. With the support of her Grants to Artists award, Tsang began production on A day in the life of bliss, featuring the performer boychild.

Tsang's films, performances, and installations have been presented at museums and film festivals internationally. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, the Wexner Center for the Arts, The Geffen Contemporary at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia; and La MaMa Galleria. In 2012, Tsang was the only artist to have work featured in the concurrent Whitney Biennial and the New Museum Triennial. Tsang has also presented projects at the Gwangju Biennial in South Korea, the Liverpool Biennial, and the Hammer Museum Biennial. Her work has been screened at the Guggenheim Museum, REDCAT, Tate Modern, London; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Frieze Art Fair; and Identities Film Festival, Vienna.

After receiving her FCA support, Tsang was a 2014 Rockefeller Bellagio Creative Arts Fellow (2014), and is Creative Capital Fellow (2015). Prior to her 2013 Grants to Artists, Tsang was a Louis Comfort Tiffany Fellow (2012) and a Film Independent Project Involve Directing Fellow (2012).

In 2004, Tsang received a B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 2010 he received an Interdisciplinary Studio M.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles.

In a bedroom, a person sitting wearing a red cap watches a person seated before a mirror paint their face blue and red. To their left, a person in a latex gown and cap stands with their hand on their hip.
FCA-supported A day in the life of bliss, 2014, 2-channel film installation, TRT 20:00 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Benevento (Los Angeles), and Isabelle Bortolozzi (Berlin).
A bare-chested person with a shaved head, blood smeared at the corner of their mouth, their body painted in chalky white paint stares at a helmeted person wearing a black vest written with:
FCA-supported A day in the life of bliss, 2014, 2-channel film installation, TRT 20:00 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Benevento (Los Angeles), and Isabelle Bortolozzi (Berlin).
A person in a dark tree-lined street faces directly ahead with an intense expression, the words
FCA-supported A day in the life of bliss, 2014, 2-channel film installation, TRT 20:00 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Benevento (Los Angeles), and Isabelle Bortolozzi (Berlin).
Performer, shadowed and dressed all in black, stands in a dimly lit room in front of an LED projector screen looking down at a row of shadowed bodies lying face-down on the floor.
FULL BODY QUOTATION, 2011. Performance for Performa Biennial, New Museum, NY.
Installation view of a bar counter with empty stools and a hanging television projecting two purple-hued faces. Behind the bar is a wall of shiny gold curtains and to the left is a sign with the words lit up in blue:
Installation view of DAMELO TODO (Give Me Everything), 2010/2011, Clifton Benevento, New York.
Close-up of a performer in a silver sequin top and dangly silver earrings bending slightly backwards in soft rosy lighting.
Still from DAMELO TODO (Give Me Everything), 2010, HD Video, color, sound, 20:07 minutes.
Close-up of Tsang wearing a tan wig cap and pursing her lips in front of a shimmery silver curtain.
Still from The Shape of a Right Statement, 2008, HD video (NTSC), 5:00 minutes.