Xiwen Zhu

'Soft Shell'

In Soft Shell, the artist’s first museum exhibition, SCAD alum Xiwen Zhu (M.F.A., photography, 2015) presents a selection of works from her series Casual Territory. These striking images depict dreamlike dioramas staged at the artist’s studio in Shanghai. Each scene consists of found items intermixed with photographic materials such as snapshots and cut-outs of stock photos. Obscuring the threshold between image and object, Xiwen Zhu plays with dimensionality in an allusion to the undulating boundaries of private and public space.

"Home Vase" by Xiwen Zhu
Xiwen Zhu, "Home Vase," 2021, archival pigment print, 30 x 45 in., edition 1 of 5. Courtesy of the artist.

In Xiwen Zhu’s built environments, signs of urban reconstruction encroach on natural elements — surveillance cameras grow from vines, wire armatures strangle Bonsai trees, birds perch on technological artifacts, and butterflies patrol the confines of residential enclosures. Through long exposure techniques, the artist captures soft glimmers and moody shadows amid her assemblages, transfiguring any sense of time and place while also hinting at hidden messages that may lurk in the darkness. With this body of work, Xiwen Zhu comments on the effect of the modern world on its population: under watchful eye, individuals seek seclusion and protection within their own armored shells yet must ultimately remain soft and malleable — and open to interacting with and experiencing the outside world.

About the artist

Xiwen Zhu (b. 1989, China; lives and works in Shanghai) received an M.F.A. in Photography from SCAD in 2015 and received her B.F.A. in Film and Video Art from Communication University of China, Nanjing, in 2011. She has presented a solo exhibition at Cos-J Artspace in Wuhan, China; participated in several group exhibitions around the world; and received many awards for her photography.

Install Views


Soft Shell is organized by SCAD Museum of Art assistant curator Brittany Richmond.

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