Portraiture Now

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

Text of Portraiture Now




    Location: The National Portrait Gallery is conveniently located at Eighth and F Streets, NW, in Washington D.C. 20001 above the Gallery PlaceChinatown Metrorail station (red, yellow, and green lines).Museum Hours: 11:30 am7:00 pm daily, Closed December 25Admission: FreeGeneral Information Number: 202.633.8300National Portrait Gallery Information Email Address: npgnews@si.edu

    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.

    [ the national portrait gallery ]

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    Portraiture Now


    Education Center


    Archives of American Art Gallery

    American Origins

    The Civil War

    Recent Acquisitions


    Elevator Entrance Family Restroom

    Information Museum Store

    Restaurant Restrooms Stairs WheelchairAccess


    Manship Sculpture

    Museum Store

    Museum Store

    To Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium

    Courtyard Cafe

    Kogod Courtyard

    American Experience

    Folk Art

    Special Exhibition Gallery





    Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of EncounterDates: August 12, 2011 October 14, 2012 Museum: Portrait GalleryLocation: 1st Floor, SouthWebsite: 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 Smithsonians first major showcase of contemporary Asian American portraiture. Through the groundbreaking work of seven tal-ented 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.

    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 groundbreak-ing 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 Saldaman-do 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 Stateslike 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 Chinaregularly 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 countrylike 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 Vietnaminflect

    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.

  • 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.

  • CYJO 07

    Born in Seoul, raised in the United States, and now based principally in Beijing, CYJO (born 1974) is a self-described Kyopothe 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 be-fore 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 fine-art photographer. Since that time, her subjects have included a wide range of individualsfrom perform-ing artists to politiciansand her photographs have been featured in numerous publications both in the United States and abroad.

    Beginning with a single portrait in 2004, CYJOs 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.

    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 peoplemostly living in Americaconsider 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 inter-views.

    [ artist biography ]

    [ artist statement ]


    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 Chi-nese 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 Hongs Kansas home) and My Life Strands both examine a womans life cycle, from radiant, untangled youth to the twists and turns of midlife.

    According to Eastern culture, a young womans 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 accen-tuates 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.

    [ artist biography ]

    [ artist statement ]

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

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


    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 wom-en 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-portraitWalking, Drinking, Eating, and Sittingtransforms everyday activities into sites of confusion. A hole in a glass continually spills orange juice. Large planks strapped to the art-ists 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 re-minder that fitting in requires consistent negotiation between the self and perceived expectationsa challenge to which we can all relat