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Cyjo: The Korean diaspora


The American Dream glows and pulsates and can initially overshadow the hardship and struggle that many immigrants face as they take root into a new country. And with the sacrifices made from the first generation, later generations experience a more comfortable life. English becomes their language of choice as they continue to shape their country and embark on life paths different from their parents’ generation while the constant aggregate of experiences lends to the continuing evolution of identity and culture.

This is the story of the KYOPO Project, a photographic and textual project of immigration and identity through the lense of the Korean diaspora. It is currently exhibited at The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in a group exhibition entitled “Asian American Portraits of Encounter” until October 2012.

The project began in 2004 because of the dearth of existing photography books that folded in Korean culture and contemporary issues at that time. Growing up in a culture that was not specific to one ethnicity, I was also curious with how others who shared the same ancestry contextualized themselves in their societies.

240 people were profiled and over the course of the years, the project grew into something bigger than imagined. The project questioned the definition of self from an ethnic and cultural standing, being Korean and American. And an amalgam of social and cultural issues came to fore – adoption, generational issues, being mixed race, etc. Some participants were also Brazilian, German, Kiwi, Japanese, Spanish and French that expanded the topic of identity into a global one.

Visually, the project allows the viewer to determine how much a culture or personality can be registered from an individual portrait, their stance or their muscle gestures. Does an individual portrait contain a different message than from a forced collective portrait? At the same time the individual portrait represents the individual persona (traditionally seen as western), being innovative and thinking outside the box as opposed to the collective persona (traditionally seen as Asian), being a team player and acting based on group identity.

The KYOPO Project explores the process of ethnographic photography, putting scale aside, through a forced grouping. It questions the level of cohesiveness or disparity that one may have with another, with many participants embracing a transnational and transcultural life.


CYJO is a contributor to La Lettre. She has lived for the past 2.5 years in Beijing.

Asian American Portraits of Encounter
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
August 12th, 2011 – October 14th 2012
Eighth and F Streets NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

KYOPO: Multiplicity – May 18th, 2012
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (Kogard Courtyard)
Eighth and F Streets NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

KYOPO: Multiplicity – A 60 minute performance that translates The KYOPO Project into a multimedia experience. Performance commissioned by CYJO to the following collaborators: Dr. Anthony Paul De Ritus, Chair of Music at Northeastern University, Dr. Benoit Granier, Professor at The Beijing Central Conservatory of Music, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, founder of DTSB & Co and Chair of Theater and Dance at George Washington University.

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