Noah Zhou

Artist Statement

DERAILED, 2023. Acrylic on canvas with toy subway trains. 72 x 72.”

DERAILED is a large-scale, mixed-media acrylic painting that uses railway objects and visuals to examine relationships between racialized violence, infrastructure, and historical canons. While recognizing New York City’s contemporary subways as centers for potential danger, the painting draws careful connections across shared histories of labor and movement beginning with 19th-century migrant railroad workers. Synthesizing photographic imagery of New York City’s 7 Train with reproductions of documents, texts, maps, and toy trains, the painting presents rail lines as pathways that pierce through complicated legacies of systemic racism. The landscape imagery used in the painting, collected from observation in Flushing, Queens, records the rail infrastructure that enables daily mass-migrations of satellite working communities to fill service jobs in Manhattan. The composition also alludes to Corky Lee’s famous restaging of the photograph commemorating the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, in which the artist honored the descendents of the rail workers pushed outside the frame.

DERAILED traces repressed histories of migration, class struggle, and racialized violence through the rail, demarcating the image of the railway as a symbol of resistance. To derail is to acknowledge the structures that delineate our shared histories and crash through them. Into wreckage; into futurity.

Zài ni fāngbiàn de shíhòu (WHEN IT’S CONVENIENT FOR YOU), 2021. Acrylic on canvas with Toyota Camry door. 72 x 72.”

Zài ni fāngbiàn de shíhòu (WHEN IT’S CONVENIENT FOR YOU) was made in response to the wave of anti-Asian violence that affected New York City during the coronavirus pandemic. Inscribed across overlaid scenes of Chinatown, the repeating phrase “WHEN IT’S CONVENIENT FOR YOU” critiques society’s collective understanding of representation as a pathway to acceptance and belonging, positing such promises as harmful conflations.

Included beneath the paint surface, archival print materials document various critical texts, comic book images, news clippings, and communication documents circulated in the 1990s by the Godzilla group– one of the earliest art collectives to organize around the premise of an Asian-American identity politic. The focal point of the painting features the image of an autoworker smashing a Toyota– one of the prevailing images from the influential documentary, Who Killed Vincent Chin?

Artist Bio

Noah Zhou is a visual artist, writer, and educator based in New York City. Working across a variety of mediums, he examines the conditions of contemporary anti-Asian racism and how it is contained within historical formations of the Asian American identity politic. Zhou’s recent series of monumental paintings incorporate archival print materials beneath heavily textured surfaces to suggest alternative lineages– refusing the historical uniformity and artistic canons that have overproduced Asian pain stories under the guise of representation.

Zhou’s practice refuses the oppressive logics of imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy, carcerality, and other forms of domination while exploring new notions of futurity. On top of sustaining a creative practice, he works as an educator and advocates for social justice through writing and community activism. Zhou’s writing engages a variety of subjects including institutional critique, expansion of the carceral state, and underlying xenophobia within online news media. Zhou received his teaching certification at the University of Vermont and is currently completing his MFA at the Parsons School of Design.