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Yu-Wen Wu navigates themes of immigration and identity in exhibit at Praise Shadows Art Gallery

Yu-Wen Wu's "Yes, No, Maybe I," watercolor, ink, and graphite on Dura-Lar.Yu-Wen Wu

Yu-Wen Wu’s glimmering drawing “A Silver Moon” overlooks “Internal Navigation,” her exhibition at Praise Shadows Art Gallery. “Between my lost home and a promised home,” its handwritten text reads, “the moon and my shadow were friends for twelve cycles.”

Immigration is this artist’s enduring theme. Wu came to the United States from Taiwan as a child. Before the family left, her grandmother sought answers from divinatory blocks shaped like crescent moons, asking, “Will we be safe and happy in America?” This show, spare and deep as a poem, is about losses and hopes. The luminous “Silver Moon” portrays an emblem of connection, seen from any place on Earth.


Yu-Wen Wu's "A Silver Moon," graphite and silver ink on Dura-Lar.Dan Watkins

In 2010, Wu asked the Google Maps app for the walking route from Boston to Taipei. It produced street-by-street directions through 11,749 miles. “Use caution,” it said. “This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.”

In “Walking to Taipei,” she re-creates that path on a 20-foot-long scroll with directions printed on slips of rice paper. “Kayak across the Pacific Ocean,” reads one. “About 52 days, 1 hour.”

Wu’s materials and formats, such as the scroll, tether her to her homeland. Her grandmother knotted a red thread, symbolizing connection, around the artist’s wrist when she was born, and a red thread runs through the artist’s book “Internal Navigation (book 1),” which, like the whole exhibition, layers the nuts and bolts of lived experience with something more mythic. The divinatory moon blocks appear in the book, and again, held in fading hands, in the elegant drawing series “Yes, No, Maybe.”

“Will we be safe and happy in America?”

Yu-Wen Wu's "Accumulation of Dreams III," graphite, gold ink, 18-carat gold leaf on Arches paper.Yu-Wen Wu

Maybe. Wu’s drawing series about the American Dream, “Accumulation of Dreams,” features droplets, some accented with gold foil, falling into undulant piles. It references the 19th-century gold rush, which brought a wave of Chinese immigrants to America. They were met with racism and violence. In 1882, Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring Chinese laborers from entering the country. In Wu’s drawings of gold-laced teardrops, promise is seared with terrible compromise.


The promise of the American Dream is, like that of youth, rich with possibility. But the reality is more complicated. There are routes in this show between Boston and Taipei, between home and away, and between aspiration and reality, and Wu is an eloquent mapmaker.


At Praise Shadows Art Gallery, 313A Harvard St., through Oct. 10. 617-487-5427,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at