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[ PORTRAITURE NOW: ASIAN AMERICAN PORTRAITS OF ENCOUNTER ]


[ PORTRAITURE NOW: ASIAN AMERICAN PORTRAITS OF ENCOUNTER ]


Location: The National Portrait Gallery is conveniently located at Eighth and F Streets, NW, in Washington D.C. 20001 above the Gallery Place–Chinatown Metrorail station (red, yellow, and green lines). Museum Hours: 11:30 am–7:00 pm daily, Closed December 25 Admission: Free General Information Number: 202.633.8300 National Portrait Gallery Information Email Address: npgnews@si.edu

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MUSEUM INFO [ the national portrait gallery ] The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, tells the stories of America through the individuals who have shaped U.S. culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts, and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists who speak American history.


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Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter Dates: August 12, 2011 – October 14, 2012 Museum: Portrait Gallery Location: 1st Floor, South Website: www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/encounter/index.html The National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program are collaborators on “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter.” This exhibition is the Smithsonian’s first major showcase of contemporary Asian American portraiture. Through the groundbreaking work of seven talented artists from across the country and around the world, the exhibition offers provocative renditions of the Asian American experience. Their portraits of encounter offer representations against and beyond the stereotypes that have long obscured the complexity of being Asian in America.

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EXHIBIT INFO Lead support for the exhibition, publication, and related programs is provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Rebecca Houser Westcott Fund for “Portraiture Now.” Additional support is provided by Andrew S. Ree and the Joh Foundation. In-kind support is provided by Korean Air Cargo.


This exhibition displays the diversity of contemporary Asian American identity through the groundbreaking work of seven visual artists. Roger Shimomura is a third-generation American of Japanese descent who deconstructs Asian American stereotypes through his art. Born in San Francisco, Shizu Saldamando blends references to youth subculture in Southern California with nods to her Japanese and Mexican heritage. Other artists use concepts of diaspora, migration, and transnationalism to expand the meaning of their Asian American identity. Artists from Asia who work in the United States—like Satomi Shirai, who moved to New York City from Tokyo, or Hye Yeon Nam, who came to this country from Korea to study art, and CYJO, an artist currently based in China—regularly travel back and forth from Asia to the United States and craft unique portraits of encounter from their experiences. Artists who now live in this country—like Zhang Chun Hong, who spent the last year in her native China but makes her home in Kansas, or Tam Tran, whose family relocated to Tennessee from Vietnam—inflect

INTRODUCTION their journey in expressive ways. This group of artists demonstrates, in microcosm, the nuances inherent to the Asian American experience. Their portraits of encounter offer representations against and beyond the stereotypes that have long obscured the complexity of being Asian in America and reveal the threads of contemporary life in novel ways.

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Top (Left to Right): Chang Rae Lee, digital pigment print, 2006; Maggie Kim, digital pigment print, 2005; Daniel Dae Kim, digital pigment print, 2007. Bottom: Sections from The KYOPO Project – 240 Portraits, digital pigment print, 2011.


[ artist biography ] Born in Seoul, raised in the United States, and now based principally in Beijing, CYJO (born 1974) is a self-described Kyopo—the Korean term for ethnic Koreans living in other countries. Just one-and-a-half years old when she immigrated with her family to the United States in 1976, CYJO grew up in suburban Maryland and later studied at the University of Maryland and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. She continued her education in Italy at the Istituto Politecnico Internazionale della Moda before returning to the States, where she earned her degree in fashion design from FIT in 1997. After working initially as a stylist, CYJO moved behind the camera in 2002 to launch her career as a fineart photographer. Since that time, her subjects have included a wide range of individuals—from performing artists to politicians—and her photographs have been featured in numerous publications both in the United States and abroad. Beginning with a single portrait in 2004, CYJO’s KYOPO Project has grown organically as new subjects have encouraged other members of the Kyopo community to pose for her camera and share their stories of identity.

CYJO [ artist statement ] Most of my portraiture thus far is related to ethnography in that I am using it to examine issues of individual identity in relation to both ancestral heritage and contemporary life. The KYOPO Project is a photographic and textual exploration of immigration and identity through the lens of Korean ancestry. In this work, more than two hundred people—mostly living in America—consider their relationships with their ancestral culture and the other cultures they embody through citizenship/residence or life experiences. I enjoy capturing both the silent, direct, and informational physiognomy of each individual and the textual portraits that are obtained through interviews.

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[ artist biography ] Hong Zhang (as she is known in the United States) is a Chinese-born artist living and working in this country whose work combines traditional skills with contemporary ideas. She received her BFA in Chinese painting from the Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1994 and came to the United States in 1996. After completing the MFA program at the University of California, Davis, in 2004, she moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Her work is collected and exhibited internationally. Zhang (born 1971) references her own identity through disembodied images of long, straight, black hair. The exaggerated scale of the scrolls transforms this very personal exploration into a universal theme. The triptych Three Graces presents symbolic portraits of three Zhang sisters, all artists, reflecting their individuality as well as their sibling connection. The larger center piece depicts nurturing older sister Ling, flanked by Hong on the right and her left-handed identical twin Bo on the left. The scrolls Cyclone (with its reference to Hong’s Kansas home) and My Life Strands both examine a woman’s life cycle, from radiant, untangled youth to the twists and turns of midlife.

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ZHANG CHUN HONG [ artist statement ] According to Eastern culture, a young woman’s long hair is associated with life force, sexual energy, growth, and beauty. Like a portrait, the image of hair can express personal feelings and emotions. I have had long hair since high school, and it has become a part of my identity. I use long hair as a metaphor to extend the meaning beyond the surface. The charcoal medium creates a visual image of my hair, which incorporates fine details, darkness, and illumination. In addition, traditional Chinese culture has influenced my work, including its presentation as scroll paintings. This accentuates the length of the piece and the flow of my hair. The larger-than-life scale presents an imposing and surreal image with a three-dimensional effect.


Three Graces, charcoal on three paper scrolls, 2009-11.


Self-Portrait: Eating, Walking, Drinking, Sitting; single-channel videos; 2006.


[ artist biography ] “I hope my audience finds connections between my work and their lives,” writes Hye Yeon Nam (born 1979). This young Korean artist, a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology with an MFA in digital media from the Rhode Island School of Design, uses her artwork to address issues of personal and societal concern. Keenly aware of distinctions in expectations for the appropriate behavior for women in her native land and the United States, Nam has created a body of work that addresses feelings of awkwardness with subtlety and humor. Her four-part video self-portrait—Walking, Drinking, Eating, and Sitting—transforms everyday activities into sites of confusion. A hole in a glass continually spills orange juice. Large planks strapped to the artist’s feet make walking uncomfortable and challenging. Tomatoes slide off a ruler used as a utensil. A chair with shortened front legs causes the artist to slide forward, slipping off her perch. No resolution is offered, and the artist invites empathy and even sympathy for the physical and psychic struggles she evokes. With her patient and resolute response to the difficult situations she encounters, Nam provides a reminder that “fitting in” requires consistent negotiation between the self and perceived expectations—a challenge to which we can all relate.

HYE YEON NAM [ artist statement ] My work explores social issues based on personal experience. As a woman and a Korean immigrant in the United States, I have struggled to adjust to my new culture. Every situation summons different customs, requiring me to adopt unfamiliar behaviors in order to conform to expectations. My work reflects my desire to resist such pressure by using physical dissonance to reveal different perspectives upon the “norm.” Art is not meant to be merely decorative or beautiful; instead, it can be a question, an argument, a proposal, a resolution. By addressing the everyday challenges that beset us all, my work strives to encourage others to confront social concerns and constraints and to seek to surmount them.

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[ artist biography ] Shizu Saldamando (born 1978) depicts how American social spaces are the laboratories for new ways of being. Her portraits playfully suggest that race, gender, and ethnicity act as white noise to the scene at hand; audible, yet not identifiable. Saldamando’s visual biographies, which use friends as her subjects, capture the energy of youthful experimentation and the freedom of malleable categories for identity. Born to parents of Japanese and Mexican descent, Saldamando resides in Los Angeles but grew up in San Francisco. She attended the University of California, Los Angeles, for her undergraduate work and received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. About arriving in Los Angeles, she says: “Growing up in the Mission district in San Francisco, it was predominately a hip-hop culture. Here in Los Angeles, I’d go to shows or house parties, and it would be all Latino kids listening to the Cure and the Smiths. In L.A., I felt normal for the first time.” Saldamando’s meticulous collaged paintings offer the viewer a subtlety of influences to ponder.

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SHIZU SALDAMANDO [ artist statement ] My work is an investigation into different social constructs and subcultures seen through backyard parties, dance clubs, music shows, hang-out spots, and art receptions. By exploring subculture through personal narrative and employing an eclectic mix of materials, I hope to disarm fixed hierarchical social and artistic constructs. I am interested in documenting mundane social moments as a way to glorify everyday people who are often overlooked, yet whose existence is the embodiment and legacy of historical struggle. We are all interested in the process of creating and re-contextualizing culture by virtue of language, dress, and memory. Visual signifiers drawing from fashion and place are constantly in flux, fluid in meaning yet rich in historical context. For this reason I gravitate towards portraiture as practice and process. Rather than depicting moments of cultural “diaspora,” I lean towards the idea of fragmentation within the self as being more of an evolving, fluid, and never-ending process.


Top: Carm’s Crew, gold leaf and oil on wood, 2009. Bottom: Cat and Carm, gold leaf and oil on wood, 2008.


Top Left: American Hello Kitty, acrylic on canvas, 2010. Bottom Left: American Pikachu, acrylic on canvas, 2010. Right: American vs. Japs 2, acrylic on canvas, 2010.


[ artist biography ] Since 1969, Roger Shimomura (born 1939) has lived in Lawrence, Kansas, where he has served as an art professor at the University of Kansas. As a painter, printmaker, and performance artist, Shimomura has focused particular attention on the experiences of Asian Americans and the challenges of being “different” in America. He knows well the pain and embarrassment associated with xenophobia. As a small child during World War II, he and his family were relocated from their home in Seattle to a Japanese American internment camp in Idaho. Having trained as an artist at the University of Washington and Syracuse University, Shimomura creates work that often pivots on the racist stereotypes that have been used to characterize Asian Americans. The five paintings featured in this gallery were all created in the last two years. Each is a type of selfportrait in which his own likeness takes center stage. Whether fighting popular caricatures or portraying himself as someone else, Shimomura wishes to reflect on the absurdity associated with such caricatures. Both humorous and poignant, these paintings reflect the artist’s long interest in the status of Asian Americans within American society.

ROGER SHIMOMURA [ artist statement ] I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, a city where ethnic diversity is standard fare; however, for the last forty years, I have lived in the Midwest, where the Asian American presence is still somewhat of a rarity. Since living in Kansas, I have found it to be routine to be asked what part of Japan I am from, or how long I have lived in this country. Just as common, subtle references continue to connect me to stereotypical “oriental” traits, both physical and behavioral. Far too many American-born citizens of Asian descent continue to be thought of as only “American knockoffs.” This latest series of paintings is an attempt to ameliorate the outrage of these misconceptions by depicting myself battling those stereotypes or, in tongue-in-cheek fashion, becoming those very same stereotypes.

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[ artist biography ] The title of Satomi Shirai’s photographic project, Home and Home: New York in My Life, indicates a coming-to-grips with the dislocations caused by her move to the city from Japan in 2004. She writes about how she watched a small cherry tree in her Queens neighborhood and how she was shocked to discover one day that it had been cut down. What makes Shirai a true artist of cultural conflict and engagement is that she did not flinch from this episode, or from America. Instead, her wonderfully overstuffed, sensually detailed photographs create the visual terrain that shows Shirai’s ongoing engagement with two cultures. Shirai graduated from Musashino Art University in Tokyo (1996) and worked as a commercial photographer in Japan before moving to New York City. She received her MFA from Hunter College in 2010. She has exhibited widely, including in the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition (2009).

SATOMI SHIRAI

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Walls with windows and doors form the house, but the empty space within it is the essence of the house. —from The Uses of Not, Lao Tse My work investigates what constitutes the concept of “home,” as an immigrant who chose to live in New York. Tangibility versus intangibility are brought up and added to the discussion. How do we assess or assume home? My relocation to New York is not about overcoming a culture that is distinct, but encountering and understanding cultural difference and similarity. I bring into my work questions of custom, holiday, architecture, dress, food, location, and home design as a means to explore how culture is intermixed or remains unchanged, as well as how national identity and sensibility persist while living a cross-cultural life.


Left: Itch, digital chromogenic print, 2006. Top Right: Fortune Telling, digital chromogenic print, 2007. Bottom Right: Laundry, digital chromogenic print, 2007.


Left: My Call to Arms, digital print, 2009. Top Center: Trophy, digital print, 2010. Bottom Center: Youniverse, digital print, 2010. Right: Strip Tease, digital print, 2009.


[ artist biography ] Tam Tran (born 1986) moved with her family to Memphis, Tennessee, from South Vietnam when she was a young child. Growing up in the South with her parents and two older sisters, Tran experienced two different and overlapping cultures—one at home and another in the world around her. A recent graduate of the University of Memphis with a degree in journalism, Tran now works as a graphic designer. She has shown her work in solo and group shows in Memphis and was included in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Her arresting photographs investigate identity and gender, and in this series of self-portraits, called Accents, she explores her ever-changing relationship to her own developing identity. Her self-portraits are not exercises in performance or character invention. She photographs herself against a white background, using clothing that she wears regularly—as well as pose, hairstyle, and makeup—to shift the viewer’s perceptions of her own identity. Through these sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic images, she focuses on her “battle to maintain balance in my two cultures.”

TAM TRAN [ artist statement ] Accents is a study/commentary on form and style, on self-definition through appearance. It is a series of self-portraits that started out as simple convenience. I was always available and did not need to explain myself or give guidance to a model. I found it easiest to be at once the taker and the taken. Eventually, the self-portraits grew to be increasingly varied, where I take on multiple sets of identities that challenge viewers to decipher for themselves “Who am I?” I attempt to lead on the viewer and have control over him/her for the time of at least one image.

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[ THANK YOU FOR VISITING ]


Portraiture Now  

A Smithsonian brochure about Asian American portraiture work. This was created as a school project.

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