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Negotiating Asian-American Identity Through Portraiture

On exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter highlights the unique and diverse experiences of Asian-American identity. The exhibit is jointly presented by the Smithsonian Asian-Pacific American Program and the National Portrait Gallery.

The exhibit features seven visual artists who represent a range of mediums and experiences of being Asian-American and Asian in America: CYJO, Zhang Chun Hong, Hye Yeon Nam, Roger Shimomura, Satomi Shirai, Tam Tran, Shizu Saldamando.

CYJO interviewed and photographed over 200 about their relationships with their ancestral culture and other cultures they embody through citizenship, residency, or experience.

Roger Shimomura was born and raised in Seattle and has lived in the United States for more than 40 years, but he is routinely asked what part of Japan he is from. Shimomura deconstructs such preconceived notions in his paintings by using caricatures and portraying himself as stereotypical icons, including the Pokemon characters.

“The theme that unites the show is that each artist treats identity as a negotiation, as a set of choices that one makes,” says Konrad Nj, Director of the Smithsonian Asian-Pacific American Program. Those choices are reflected in the various works through the prisms of gender, race, travel, clothing or how each navigates the world.

Rather than revealing an essential conclusion about the Asian-American experience, Nj hopes the exhibit as a whole reveals the negotiations and nuances of identity.

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