My work in the past few years consists of female portraits of Asian descent. "Eol-Gooi," (1995-1996) which is a phonetic translation of a Korean word for "face" is a series of close-up photographs of Asian women in New York City. They were mostly strangers whom I met on the street, although a few of them were my acquaintances. The familiarity of the faces I encountered was strangely foreign partly because they were now situated among non-Asians. In the process, a particular kind of relationship was established with the people who posed for me and looked into camera. I was not only looking at them but also looking at myself through them. My identification was a way of mapping out my own identity relocated in a foreign land. The portraits hung on a closed gallery space form a collective gaze in which they are engaged in the act of looking rather than subjected to being looked at.
Another body of work, "No-Re-Bang" (1999- 2001) is a series of photographs of Korean women singing in karaoke rooms in New York City. "No-Re-Bang" literally means "singing room" in Korean. In ancient Korean culture, singing and dancing were an integral part of their daily lives. It was not only a form of entertainment but also of ritual wishing their well being. Although Karaoke is the modern equivalent of these ceremonies, it has transformed into something quite different in its meaning and form. One of its sustaining elements is the aspect of entertainment through which friends form a sense of community. However, the space they sing in is now a small confining room which is in some sense disconnected from the outside reality. It is a space where they are allowed to act out their fantasies and desires. In the beginning of every song, there appears a sentence on a TV monitor that reads, "You can be a star, too". At the same time, this detached and enclosed space becomes a temporary gateway to the homeland. It paradoxically provides a way for Koreans and Korean Americans to remain connected to Korean culture. The women in my photographs rent karaoke rooms and sing alone or with their friends. These personal gatherings reveal their emotions such as loneliness, fear and anxiety. Their displaced identity finds a home in this artificial and kitsch space.
|All images copyright June Bateman Gallery and individual artists. Reproduction by permission only. |
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