Cultural portraits

By Sun Shuangjie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-11 18:58:01

US photographer’s works chart the immigrant experience for families and individuals

A decade ago, American photographer CYJO, who was born as Cindy Hwang in Seoul in 1974, embarked on a journey to meet and talk with people for her art series KYOPO (the name comes from the Korean word for a person of Korean ethnicity who lives outside the Korean Peninsula).

From 2004 to 2009, the artist talked to and photographed more than 200 people of Korean descent living in the US, from teenager to the elderly, and with occupations that included politician, athlete, actor and retiree, among others. CYJO then displayed photos of the subjects alongside their statements.

On finishing KYOPO, CYJO continued to focus on cross-cultural topics. She expanded her range of interviewees to multicultural families in both the US and China in her new series, Mixed Blood, which she started in 2010 and is ongoing. Recently, the artist brought her Mixed Blood series to Shanghai. It will be on display at Minsheng Art Museum until December 8.

American photographer CYJO's works about multicultural families in both the US and China are on display at Minsheng Art Museum. Photos: Courtesy of the museum

Pictures and stories

With just 19 family portraits, the exhibition is relatively small. Each portrait is accompanied by text telling the stories of the members of each family. All of the photographs were taken at the homes of the families, who were chosen through chance encounters and recommendations.

The rooms that the subjects stand in are clean and tidy. The family members stand straight beside each other, giving a sense of unity. However, each also exists as an independent individual, and decided themselves what to wear for the photographs. There is also a large amount of information in text next to each exhibit.

Emiliano Casarosa of the Casarosa family in New York said in the text accompanying his family's portrait: "When I first arrived, I didn't want to be Italian at all because I didn't want to be stuck in this expat community that restricted the full NYC (New York City) experience." India-born Vinod Chandola, who lives in Beijing, said he now regards China as his home and that his stomach is now not accustomed to the spices and oils in Indian cuisine. Hawaii-born Matthew James, now living in New York, calls his daughter's generation "New World People" after moving to the US mainland.

"It's important to show how cross-cultural relationships exist within a family unit. It's also about how families are choosing to define themselves where we can learn what kind of roles they're playing in our societies today," CYJO told the Global Times.

According to the artist, the initial idea behind doing KYOPO was to explore how people who shared their ethnicity identified themselves in the context of their societies and to create a platform that shared both American and Korean cultures.

Mixed Blood is an offshoot from KYOPO. It dissects more cultural layers that pertain to individuals having multiple ethnicities. It also questions the process of categorization and illustrates the diverse relationships families have with multiple cultures today.


Shared experiences

CYJO moved to Washington D.C. metropolitan area from South Korea with her parents soon after she was born. Now her family is like any other mixed cultural subject captured by her lens, as they have different languages in the household (she speaks fluent English and understands Korean well). She has nephews who are half Korean and half Indian, and family members who are French with Spanish and Korean ethnicities.

She said she's been very lucky in that she's avoided many of the difficulties and challenges that some immigrants face. "Everyone has a story, and some stories of immigration involve more challenge or struggle," CYJO said. "But then with challenges or struggles, there are also successes and acts of courage. We can all learn from other people's stories and expand our insights. Much of my work revolves around creating art platforms where both photographic and narrative stories can be shared. This is something that Mixed Blood also does." There are four major questions Mixed Blood examines, according to CYJO. They are how people deal with their relationships with nationality and ethnicity, how people look at their cross-cultural experience and multicultural identities, how traditions change over generations and through different practices, and what the definition of home is for different people.




Further projects

Dr Maya Soetoro-Ng commented on Mixed Blood in a written prologue for the series saying: "To me, CYJO's portraits are not just about choosing or unifying race or ethnicity; they hint at tensions and at differences in the power of heritage, they have historical echoes and teach us about colonialism, inequity, oppression, forgiveness, and the kind of powerful love that drives people to cross boundaries."

CYJO has been working on projects about people and cultures in China. Her Substructure series from 2010 talks about migration through 50 migrant workers in Beijing, while Moment, Moving Moments from 2012 looks at tradition and modernization in the Dashilar area of Beijing. Her ongoing project Blue Sky Day, which she started in 2010, builds up a portrait of Beijing's industrialization through the color palette of the sky.

Date: Until December 8, 10 am to 6 pm (closed Mondays)

Venue: Minsheng Art Museum


Address: Bldg F, Red Town, 570 Huaihai Road West


Admission: Free

Call 6282-9287 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Art, Culture

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