One of the never-ending questions in our culture is: What is the American identity?In a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, the question becomes “What is an Asian American?” Here, the quest to capture Asian Americans’ experiences is depicted in photographs, charcoal sketches, video and painting. The interpretations, and some answers, are funny, poetic, sensual and complicated.
Her arresting photographs investigate identity and gender, and in this series of self-portraits, called Accents, she explores her ever-changing relationship to her own developing identity. Her self-portraits are not exercises in performance or character invention. She photographs herself against a white background, using clothing that she wears regularly—as well as pose, hairstyle, and makeup—to shift the viewer’s perceptions of her own identity. Through these sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic images, she focuses on her “battle to maintain balance in my two cultures.”
“Although she is the youngest artist in 2010,” he says, “Tam’s photographs have a unique vision and a maturity that stood out among the hundreds of artists we looked at while researching for the exhibition.”
New York, Apr. 2010: Artslant Senior East Coast Editor Trong Nguyen poses a few questions for Memphis-based artist Tam Tran. Tam is the youngest artist (age 23) in this year’s Whitney Biennial, and her photographs tell a whimsical and noire story of someone caught between east, west, and south.
The crop of artists ranges from 23-year-old Tam Tran, a photographer from Memphis (right, “Battle Cry,” 2008), to 76-year-old Lorraine O’Grady, a conceptual and performance artist who has worked as an intelligence analyst for the government and a rock music writer.
Photographs by women in this biennial suggest anything but a weaker sex. The Memphis-based Tam Tran, just 23 and making only her second appearance in an exhibition outside of college, has contributed portraits of her 4-year-old nephew in a superhero costume that Bonami found disturbing.
I had the pleasure of viewing “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter,” on a recent trip to the nation’s capitol, and I must say, it was moving to see a promising young Memphis artist honored with work on display for the world’s stage. When we spoke, she hadn’t yet been to see the new exhibit, running until October 14, 2012, but will attend the reception on the 16th at the end of this week.
On view will be a mix of well-known and new artists ranging in age from a 23-year-old photographer, Tam Tran, to the 75-year-old conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady.