Heartmind: Identity

All pieces in IDENTITY section

From right to left, top row:

Leah Melnick, "Cambodian Teenagers and Friend," 1987, photograph 

Tseng Kwong Chi, "Cape Canaveral," 1985, photograph (silver gelatin print) 

Toyo Tsuchiya, Untitled, 2003, photograph/performance documentation 

From right to left, bottom row:

Tetsu Okuhara, "Susan," n.d., collage

Ed Pien, "Baby Cannibal: The Leg Eater #2," 2002, pen on paper

Sungmi Naylor, "Untitled 1," n.d., print 

Scratch the surface of “Asian American” and myriad identities, experiences, stories, and perspectives emerge, like that of the Cambodian teenagers in Leah Melnick’s photograph. Taken in 1987 in the Bronx, New York, Melnick had an “interest in preserving a historical document of surviving members of a war-torn culture who are trying to make a new life for themselves in the United States.”

In Cape Canaveral, Tseng Kwong Chi poses in a stereotypical “Mao” suit beside what is assumed to be the Eagle, the first lunar model to land on the moon, inspired by Nixon’s 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong born, Canada bred, and a downtown New York art scene fixture by the 1980s, Tseng photographed himself, the perpetual foreigner and tourist, in front of landmarks across the U.S. for his “East Meets West” series

Born in Japan, Toyo Tsuchiya went to New York at 32 on a three-month visa and decided to stay. One may interpret his self portrait as two sides of America: the “foreign” Tsuchiya and the “quintessentially American” icon Marilyn Monroe. In between, an American flag separates, or perhaps, joins them, as they gaze at each other with skepticism or interest.

Tetsu Okuhara’s collage depicts his then lover’s face in six parts. Born in Los Angeles in 1940, he was imprisoned in a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. This may suggest one reading of the fragmentation in his work: the compartmentalization of memories and past experiences, which at the same time come together to form a greater whole. 

Canadian artist Ed Pien depicts an evocative, if somewhat disturbing, image. Born in Taiwan, Pien’s work often explores themes of ghosts, sinister creatures, and the “messiness” of bodies depicted in images of both Taiwanese and Western hells. But who is this baby? Some demon or god? The artist himself? Culture or identity? What does it mean to eat away at one’s own culture or identity? Does it disappear forever or become part of the greater whole?

Finally in Sungmi Naylor’s untitled print, a shadow figure appears on a bent back. Is the shadow cast from without, forced by an unknown source, or from within as an emerging dark self?

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