Oil and wax on twenty panels
Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1998
At first glance, Synecdoche reads like a series of abstract, monochromatic paintings, ranging from light pink to very dark brown. Through the process of looking, the viewer discovers a nearby list of twenty names in a gridded format that parallels the panels’ arrangement and indicates that these panels are, in fact, portraits. The hue of each panel represents the skin color of twenty people that Byron Kim randomly encountered on The University of Texas at Austin campus. Together, the panels represent the University population.
Synecdoche is a term in literary criticism meaning a part that stands in for a whole. Here it refers at once to the color of each panel (which stands in for the individual sitter) and to all of the panels together (which stand in for the University population). Yet by conflating painting and personhood in such an irreverent manner, the work points to the futility—the absurdity even—of reducing human beings to their skin color alone.