With Photos and Testimonials, CYJO’s Kyopo Project Documents Korean Identity

WASHINGTON, DC—The portraits in CYJO’s KYOPO Project remind one of a fashion designer’s look book. Wearing their own clothes, the subjects aren’t dressed in particularly stylish ensembles, but pictured from head to toe and displayed one next to the other, the small-scale images resemble a presentation of next season’s trends.

Kyopo is a Korean term for ethnic Koreans living in other countries. It is a term CYJO applies to herself. The artist moved to the United States before she was 2, grew up in Maryland and studied in New York and Italy. CYJO is an FIT graduate and she worked as a stylist before taking up photography.

CYJO’s KYOPO Project includes more than 240 portraits.

Her education and early work experience may account for the fashion reference in the execution of the exhibit. It began with an initial portrait in 2004 and now includes more than 240 subjects, their photographs and brief first-person stories of cultural identity.

One subject, Maggie Kim concluded her testimonial realizing the benefits of her background: “Forgive parents for everything they didn’t know about being American. Thank parents for everything they knew about being Korean.”

CYJO, who is currently based in China, calls the project “a photographic and textual exploration of immigration and identity through the lens of Korean ancestry.”

The exhibit is a part of a larger show, “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter,” at the National Portrait Gallery. The show includes work by six other visual artists, including Zhang Chung Hong, and is on view from Aug. 12, 2011, to Oct. 14, 2012.

All photos by Arts Observer

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