Photographs and text by CYJO
Introduction by Julian Stallabrass
Foreword by Marie Myung-Ok Lee
Designed by Mass
In modern, spare and elegant portraiture, artist CYJO highlights the diversity, identity and immigration of the global KYOPO, those of Korean descent that reside outside of the Korean Peninsula, seven million strong. Mass emigration from Korea began in the mid-nineteenth century and accelerated during the Japanese colonial period, a time of foreign occupation that saw Koreans conscripted into forced labor. A second wave of emigrants fled beginning in the 1960’s, and it is these emigrants and their children that KYOPO captures as the face of the modern Korean diaspora.
Through her singular lens, CYJO seeks to unify these people and challenge the idea of the stereotypical Korean émigré. Yet perhaps a shared ancestry is the only thing that connects kyopo. CYJO decontextualizes her subjects to emphasize a sense of forced unity, allowing their spectrum of experience to contradict the apparent sameness of identity. Juxtaposed are the graduate student, the novelist, the human rights activist, the architect. The photographs, coupled with words from kyopo themselves, challenge the idea of a monolithic, “authentic” Korean identity, while stimulating exploration and a renewed perception of what it means to be both Korean and a citizen of the world.
"KYOPO unspools a veritable Cinemascope of visual biography to explore ideas affecting Korean American identity today. CYJO’s images are wonderfully unencumbered: she focuses her lens on a straight-forward presentation of the physical and constructed “self.” Here we are, the images tell us, in our self-portrayals as contemporary Korean Americans. Change may constantly skim the surface of modern life, but KYOPO reveals something lasting beneath: above all, as CYJO writes, the images connote a celebration of “modesty, kindness, and courage.” Their stories enrich us all." -Amy Henderson
Historian, National Portrait Gallery