Saturday, September 1, 2012

Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through October 14, 2012

This is the latest in the Portrait Gallery's "Portraiture Now" series and focuses on Asian-American artists, both those of Asian descent who were born in America, and those born in Asia who have immigrated to America.  Seven artists' work is on display; each has a unique perspective on the Asian-American experience.

The highlight of the exhibit for me was the work of CYJO, who was born in Korea, and raised in the US.  She has taken photographs of Koreans living outside Korea, and along with the gorgeous pictures, the subject of each portrait has some comments about being Korean and living outside Korea.  Between the photo and the commentary, you felt as if you connected with the person and gained an understanding of their lives.  I was reminded of a former colleague of mine, a man who had immigrated to the US from Korea many years previous to our meeting.  He was one of my favorite co-workers, and I haven't seen him in quite a while, so I was happy to be able to remember him.

Another artist whose work I enjoyed very much is Roger Shimomura.  He uses cartoon imagery to depict the stereotypes surrounding Asian Americans.  The work I liked best was "Shimomura Crossing the Delaware," which pictures the artist as George Washington and Japanese samurai as Revolutionary War soldiers.  The waves reminded me quite a bit of Hokusai, the artist I saw so much this summer at the Freer and Sackler.

Shizu Saldamando (of Mexican and Japanese parentage) paints pictures of Asian-Americans using wood as her background, rather than canvas.  Very interesting - don't think I've seen that before.  Hye Yeon Nam's videos of herself in awkward situations (walking with planks strapped to her feet, trying to drink from a glass with a hole in it, sitting at a table with a chair that is sloped downwards) bring out the feelings of "not fitting in" that immigrants can have in their adopted country.  It occurred to me that perhaps everyone else should have some sort of awkward impairment as well - how many of us feel totally at ease in our surroundings all the time?

Verdict: This is a very interesting show, worth a quick look if you're pressed for time, but repays further examination if you can manage it.

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