My Cart


Han Cao: Silhouettes

Posted on August 23 2023

Han Cao: Silhouettes
September 1 – October 1

Paradigm Gallery + Studio is pleased to present Silhouettes, a solo show of new embroidered works by fiber artist, Han Cao. Silhouettes will feature Cao’s signature series of embroidered vintage photographs, including her largest pieces to date. Cao recontextualizes personal and social histories embedded within found objects by using thread and collage methods to create new narratives with the human form. Cao’s embroidered portraits and landscapes explore the boundaries between self and environment, between reality and dreamscape. Cao will be unveiling her first instance of playing with scale as she unveils 4 pairs of embroidered images: the original photograph and a larger twin. Silhouettes will be on view on the second floor of the Paradigm Arts Building (12 N 3rd Street) from September 1 through October 1, 2023 with a public opening reception on Friday, September 1 from 6:00-8:00pm.

Silhouettes marks a new chapter of Cao’s artistic practice expanding into new dialogues of internal introspection; how our sense of self can be affected by memory, social structures, and a connection to nature. When browsing through antique shops and flea markets, Cao is drawn to images of the past, feeling connected to the posed individuals frozen in time. Her instinct to bring these discarded memories back into relevance fueled the basis for her studies of emotional bonds in her artistic practice. Although these figures lived in another era, Cao can still identify the social structures surrounding them as ideas that still exist today, like perceptions of gender and superstition. In La Lucha, Cao takes a hypermasculine subject of a Mexican luchador and drapes him in a cape of delicate flowers, allowing gender expression to transcend tradition. Cao uses an intuitive process when selecting images to elevate, often contemplating composition, negative space, and sometimes emotional weight. Cao notes that many of the vintage photographs bear incredible formality and solemnity. After preserving the photograph digitally, she liberates the spirit of the figures by altering their forms by threading color, patterns, and flowers to bring them to life. The movement and color from the string add spontaneity to an otherwise static scene, maintaining the dynamic temperament that the figures once had.

For Silhouettes, Cao explores duality when altering the forms of subjects in her new series of double portraits. While the original photograph evokes an intimate connection with the viewer, the larger counterpart is a vast landscape where Cao invites the viewer to immerse themselves into the expanded bounty of blossom motifs, greenery, and seafoam. Cao’s purposeful demonstration of scale allows the viewer to compare the intensity of depth and movement between the pieces as the level of stitching increases with scale. To further echo movement in the work, Cao utilizes nature as a portal into a daydream, as historically literature and art have used the aspects of the natural world as a door to evoke a state of reverie. In Surge, her detailed embroidery coupled with collage completely transforms the figure into an ethereal being, his mind as turbulent as the sea he portrays. Cao says, “I am always trying to change the story of the photo, but this method allows me to transport the figure into a different world.” Instead of using photographs as tokens of recollection, Cao chooses to use them as vessels for fantastical exploration.

Friday, September 1, 2023
6:00 - 8:00 PM

RSVP here*
*Requested but not required

Thursdays • 10 AM – 6 PM
Fridays • 10 AM – 6 PM
Saturdays • 11 AM – 6 PM
Sundays • 11 AM – 5 PM
And 7 days a week by appointment.

12 N 3rd St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

For all inquiries contact

Instagram: @ParadigmGS
Twitter: @ParadigmGS
TikTok: ParadigmGallery

American Artist's Almanac

About Han Cao
Han Cao is a self-taught artist currently living in Dallas, Texas. She uses embroidery to create new narratives for long-forgotten photographs and postcards found at flea markets and antique shops from around the world. All embroidery on the artwork is done by hand, directly onto the original found image.

Her art combines fibers of embroidery thread with the paper fibers of each photograph to connect with the fibers of our own being – as the added dimension of each work challenges our self-identity and personal connection with unfamiliar people and places.

About Paradigm Gallery + Studio
Paradigm Gallery + Studio® was established in 2010 by co-founders and curators, Jason Chen and Sara McCorriston. The gallery exhibits meaningful, process-intense contemporary artwork by emerging and mid-career artists from around the world. In 2022, Paradigm announced the opening of its new 5-story, 7,000 sq. ft. home, The Paradigm Arts Building, in Old City, Philadelphia. Now open to the public, the building boasts multiple floors of exhibition space, integrated in-house design and printmaking, a dedicated events floor, and art advisory offices. With this, Chen and McCorriston expanded their vision for the greater Philadelphia arts community. The gallery is at the heart of this vision, anchoring Paradigm’s overall mission of increasing access to the commercial art world, supporting artists and advancing their careers, and collaborating with like-minded partners to build a more equitable, sustainable arts economy for all.