Evan Harris

Studio Arts: Ziyan Zhang

Some come to Wake Forest for sports, for a professor or for a major, but what drew Ziyan Zhang to Wake Forest was its beauty. Zhang grew up in Shanghai, China, and attended middle school and high school in Zuoz, Switzerland. She came across Wake Forest from a brochure and was immediately drawn to the campus.

“When I’m in a beautiful campus, it makes me want to do art,” Zhang said. 

Zhang is a double major in studio art and critical and creative media studies with a minor in film studies. Her art emphasizes an intersection of photography and film.

For the past two years, Zhang worked on numerous film and photography projects — some investigating the environment, objects, her culture and herself. Her current two-year project, “Space,” takes a documentary-style focus. Throughout episodes of “Space,” Zhang interviews and records Wake Forest professor’s offices, asking the professor to pick an object that represents themselves or their interests. 

“A person’s personal space represents the person. It has characteristics. It has stories,” Zhang said.

Alongside premiering her art in installations on campus, Zhang is the head of media for the Wake Forest Chapter of Chinese Students & Scholars Association (CSSA). With CSSA and its former president, Kevin Zhu, they reached out to students’ family members and Zhang compiled a video project of parents expressing their love, saying “Happy New Year” in Chinese and how much they miss their children.  They then premiered the video at CSSA’s Spring Festival Event for students to watch. 

They [the family members] expressed how they missed them, which was really quite touching because it is not common in Chinese culture to express feelings directly…All of the students had no idea they would see their parents on the screen, and many of them were crying. To be honest I cried a lot during editing,” Zhang said.

 Zhang incorporated some of these clips into another art piece called “Happy New Year,” in which she focused on how Chinese international students experience loneliness and are separated from their families during the Lunar New Year. 

“The purpose is to remind people who are separated in a foreign land that they are not alone. The film was then projected onto the wall of a box of Asian snacks that was shared with the audience for two hours. I wanted the snacks to instill a feeling in the audience for them to feel at home even for a brief moment,” Zhang said.

At Wake Forest, Zhang feels like she’s learned how to express herself more comfortably through her art. Whether through video arts, studio arts or editing, Zhang is making waves to tell her own story.

“I find a way to tell my own story in a way that is also compelling to another person,” Zhang said. “Before I wouldn’t tell a lot about myself in my artwork. I would be a documentor or an observer.”

While there are so many opportunities for students both in the art department and on campus, Zhang encourages current and future students to reach out to make opportunities for themselves with their professors, the faculty and clubs on campus.

“These opportunities you have to reach out for yourself,” Zhang said.

After graduation, Zhang plans on either attending graduate school for a masters in marketing at Northwestern or pursuing a dual Global Media and Communications degree at the University of Southern California with the London School of Economics. Moving forward, Zhang plans to use her creative background in marketing and throughout her life.

“I think art, what matters is the meaning behind it. You just have to find a way to express it,” Zhang said.

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