Saya Woolfalk's Empathic World

Woolfalk explores cultural hybridity in an imaginative world governed by mutants with utopian values.

About Saya Woolfalk

Saya Woolfalk (Japan, 1979) is a New York-based artist who uses science fiction and fantasy to re-imagine the world in multiple dimensions.  With the multi-year projects No PlaceThe Empathics, and ChimaTEK, Woolfalk has created the world of the Empathics, a fictional race of women who are able to alter their genetic make-up and fuse with plants. With each body of work, Woolfalk continues to build the narrative of these women's lives, and questions the utopian possibilities of cultural hybridity. 

She has exhibited at PS1/MoMA; Deitch Projects; Contemporary Art Museum, Houston; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; the Brooklyn Museum; Asian Art Museum, CA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Studio Museum in Harlem; the Frist Center for the Visual Arts; the Yerba Buena Center; the Newark Museum; Third Streaming; MCA San Diego; MoCA Taipei; and Performa 09; has been written about in the New Yorker, Sculpture Magazine,, ARTNews, The New York Times, Huffington Post and on Art21’s blog; and has also worked with Facebook and WeTransfer.  Her first solo museum show The Empathics was on view at the Montclair Art Museum in the Fall of 2012.  Her second solo museum exhibition ChimaTEK Life Products was on view at the Chrysler Museum of Art in the fall 2014.  She recently completed a new video installation commission for the Seattle Art Museum, and is a recipient of a NYFA grant in Digital/Electronic Arts.  She is represented by Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, NYC and teaches in the BFA and MFA programs at Parsons: The New School for Design. 

Connect with Saya Woolfalk


The conceptual artist Saya Woolfalk has created a utopian world, populated by its own mutant humans, the Empathics. If Saya's imagined world is unusual, so, too, is her real-world background. She is a confluence of cultures. She was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a mixed-race African American father, but grew up in Scarsdale, New York. Yet, with so many cultures to draw on firsthand, she has, from an early age, chosen to construct her own.

Saya Woolfalk: I started building small worlds on my tables at school. So this is just kind of a part of what I've always done. The Empathics is this fictional race of people, who, kind of, find these bones in the woods of upstate New York. And, by encountering these bones, they start trying to mutate genetically. But their genetic mutation also causes a cultural transformation. So it's not just a physical transformation.

But as wild and imaginary as her world might seem, Saya Woolfalk sees it simply as a reflection of her own time.

Woolfalk: Now, more and more people understand that we live in an intersectional, multi-cultural, transsexual society. And the work that I make, it's not that it actually is teaching people things. It's that it's paralleling the world that we actually live in. That's ideal to that it actually becomes something that captures a moment in history, a moment in time.