Althea Rao


Halcyon Arts Lab Fellow and Interdisciplinary artist Mengxi “Althea” Rao calls herself a cultural facilitator. She creates social engagement models to facilitate open and playful conversations around topics that are traditionally associated with shame and negativity, such as inherited privilege, mental illness,gender and sexuality. Her works empower individuals and help them find reconciliation with their cultures and selves. “Humans exist in the physical realm but my art does not.” Mediums Althea has explored include but are not restricted to: film and video, projection mapping,physical computing, contact improvisation, light sculpture, public space activation, rituals,and choir singing. She has lived and worked in China, Japan and the US, and studied journalism and filmmaking.

Artist Events

Exhibition on View: Pillar of Salt: Illuminated History in Writing

Pillar of Salt: Illuminated History in Writing is a series of illuminated crowd-sourced written history in the shape of light sculpture, honoring individual’s intentions of advancing gender equality. In the course of 4 months, Rao partnered with the Hirshhorn Museum/French Embassy, The Goethe-Institut DC, Flow Yoga Center, Corcoran School of Arts and Design and the Smithsonian Freer|Sackler Gallery and launched a series of interactive installation, activating existing physical space to engage, empower and mobilize the communities. Participants were invited to respond to the prompts through an intention setting writing ritual: To advance gender equality, what are you doing well? What can/will you do better? Rao collected the commitments, and used the paper pieces to construct light sculptures, during which process highlighting individual’s personal journeys and acknowledging their contributions. Rao’s installation is a visual archive of this endeavor, showcasing six finished pieces of light sculptures and a selection of submitted entries from the individuals. A reflective corner will be set up for participants to contribute new entries onsite.

Pillar of Salt: Illuminated History in Writing will be on view at Union Market

Artist Talk 
June 23, 1:00pm - 1:45pm 
Join the Artist at Smithsonian’s Arts + Industries Building to talk about her work and learn more about her practice. 
Additional information 

Saturday, June 15 at Union Market 1:30-2:30pm
Union Market