Photographic exhibition highlights traits of mixed-race families

Huang Rierson Family © CYJO 2013

A Korean American visual artist is displaying how an individual preserves his/her racial uniqueness in an integrated mixed-race family through her latest photographic and textual series Mixed Blood at Beijing's Three Shadows Photography Art Center. The exhibit is cosponsored by the US Embassy in Beijing.

Mixed Blood features a series of stunning portraits of 19 mixed-race families based in New York City and Beijing, with each family in these photographs having multiple ethnic identities, nationalities, traditions and cultural backgrounds. The families chosen for the Mixed Blood project were identified through encounters, public settings and recommendations from the visual artist's friends.

"For some, these portraits will allow us to make more deliberate opinions when interacting with people who do not share our exact backgrounds, where the 'us and them' mentality is used for generating curiosity to understand differences but not used as a tool for discomfort, separation or discord," said CYJO, who photographed Mixed Blood from 2010 to 2013 in both New York City and Beijing.

In the photos, family members are arranged to stand in a row with no physical contact (except an exception in case a baby is too young to stand by himself/herself), a format CYJO said she wanted to use to highlight the unique identities of different ethnic groups in a mixed-race family.

CYJO said that she came up with the idea of creating Mixed Blood during the production of KYOPO, an earlier photographic and textual project that profiled mainly Americans with Korean ethnicity. After photographing and interviewing some people in the project who had other ethnicities mixed with their Korean ethnicity, it became clearer to the photographer that more needed to be explored. And that led her to shift her eyes to Beijing, as the Chinese metropolis is witnessing tremendous changes in external urban landscape and internal framework of the city's families during the process of industrialization.

"These portraits (of the Beijing-based mixed-race families chosen for Mixed Blood) reflect the combination of cultures, as more and more people choose who to love, where to live, how to raise their children, and how to define their identity in ways inconceivable in the past," said Nik Apostolides, curator of the exhibition.

During her stay in China, CYJO, who was born in the Republic of Korea in 1974 and immigrated to the United States the next year, gained some more perspectives on creating Mixed Blood through her discussions with local people on mixed ethnicity. A Chinese who marries a foreigner could be considered unusual, especially by those with traditional mindsets. But intermarriage among China's 56 ethnic groups is seen as common because of the intimate national connection, she said.

"This is partly because the prospect of having to encounter and iron out possible cultural differences being from different continents means that more work may need to be done to maintain the marriage," said the 41-year-old, pointing out that the ethnic cultures and traditions get full respect in the open-minded Beijing-based mixed-race families she selected for Mixed Blood.

Mixed Blood will be exhibited until April 3 at Three Shadows Photography Art Center in Beijing.

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