Author/Artist Interview: CYJO + “KYOPO”


Come one, come all! Get ready for the upcoming Asian Pacific American invasion at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter” opens this Thursday, August 12 and runs through October 14, 2012.

Presented in conjunction with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter” is the Smithsonian’s first major showcase of contemporary Asian American portraiture.

This brand new exhibit features the work of seven diverse artists with roots in the Americas and Asia, often with peripatetic tendencies: third-generation Japanese American Roger Shimomura; Japanese Mexican hapa Shizu Saldamando; Japanese-born, U.S.-domiciled Satomi Shirai; Korean-native, U.S.-trained Hye Yeon Nam; Chinese-born, U.S./China commuting Zhang Chun Hong; Vietnamese American immigrant Tam Tran; and Korean American, currently China-domiciled CYJO.

Of the lucky seven, I caught up with CYJO in transit from there (Beijing) to here (DC) to talk about the impending opening. FINALLY, it’s really happening!

CYJO and I first crossed paths years ago at the Smithsonian APA Program office when then-director Dr. Franklin Odo called me in to meet one of my own. “She’s Korean. She’s from DC. And she’s really talented,” he insisted. When I raised my eyebrows warily, he promised that CYJO had one of the most intriguing projects he had ever seen. This time, he really knew what he was talking about!

Kyopo, the Korean word, refers to people of Korean descent who do not live in Korea – some seven million dispersed throughout the world, 2.3 million who live in the U.S.

KYOPO,” the exhibit, is a marvel. The collection in comprised of 240 wildly individual portraits, yet each presented against a common background – a stark white wall with a pale wood floor beneath. CYJO’s message is clear: while the subjects share the same Korean ethnicity, each individual clearly represents, champions, shouts out a unique, intimate experience.

“Portraiture Now” showcases a selection of 60 individual portraits from “KYOPO” chosen from the full roster of 240, plus one collective portrait of all the “KYOPO” participants together. Once you’ve been amazed (and you will be, guaranteed!) by the quarter-sampling, you can access the entire collection in a gorgeous, breathtaking coffee table book published this month by Umbrage Editions. The book offers the added bonus of interviews with almost all the subjects, with an introduction by Julian Stallabrass and foreword by Marie Myung-Ok Lee.

In all its stunning beauty, KYOPO on the page is definitely a photographic treasure to have and to hold …

So first things first … HOW did “KYOPO” start?
The idea surfaced from a curiosity and a need: a curiosity to understand how those who shared the same ancestral culture contextualized themselves in their societies; and a need since I didn’t see many photography books that focused on Korean culture and contemporary issues. […click here for more]

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2011

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Korean, Korean American

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