One Art Space buzzed with friends and long-time admirers of Chunbum “Chun” Park (b. 1991, Seoul, South Korea) at the opening reception of their solo exhibition, The Expression of Onnagata: Fluidity and Timelessness. Park’s twelve-year artistic career culminated in an expansive expression of femininity, the performance of gender, and racialized beauty standards.
Moving through semi-abstract paintings and striking self-portraiture of women with rounded features, my eyes were led to the back of the gallery. Projected on the furthest wall were shots of paintings and photographs of Park posing in Onnagata garb. In kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese theater, the Onnagata are male actors who get to flamboyantly perform as women.
Park’s exploration of gender was muted by youthful fear during their childhood in Korea. Due to the presence of strict gender roles, they denied their fascination with womanhood. However, using the theatrics displayed by the Onnagata, we now get to be with Park as they reclaim this exploration and play with the fantasy of femininity that was left unrealized in their youth.
Park shared with me: “My exploration of femininity and gender comes from an Asian perspective that also deals with the issue of race. Racialization of beauty makes it seem that the white beauty [is] the most iconic. I want to depict an ideal of Northeastern Asian beauty that can counter the white beauty even if my perception of beauty is already westernized and/or racialized.”
“I want to depict an ideal of Northeastern Asian beauty that can counter the white beauty even if my perception of beauty is already westernized and/or racialized.”
In the face of white beauty standards, I have heard the sentiment again and again: “Just love yourself as you are.” This platitude asks those who are outside of these standards to ignore the lasting history and harm the idealization of European features has caused cis, trans, and nonbinary people of color. Park reflected: “People say that you shouldn’t judge people based on physical beauty alone, but physical beauty still matters to people a lot. So a total rejection of physical beauty is not an answer because while beauty is dismissed, it still has immense power.”
“People say that you shouldn’t judge people based on physical beauty alone, but physical beauty still matters to people a lot. So a total rejection of physical beauty is not an answer because while beauty is dismissed, it still has immense power.”
Park is correct in their analysis, the performance of beauty does hold immeasurable power and as a viewer of their work, we get to see Park revel in their self-made femininity and power. Many at the show expressed their excitement of seeing Park’s art transform over the years from the Rochester Institute of Technology and the School of Visual Arts to the present. These sentiments were echoed by Mei Fung (“Amazing Mei”), One Art Space’s Gallery Director, who admired with me the painting titled, The Wind Rises, (acrylic on canvas, 48×30 inches).
the painting depicts a portrait of Park adorned with a crown with warm tones and shadows. Mei shared the joy of seeing Park embodied in their paintings and getting to track how their presentation of themselves has evolved from piece to piece. Hard edges and sharp lines are almost entirely absent in Park’s work, instead, we find thin drips of acrylic overlaying the whole canvas or thick rounded strokes of paint. The warm to bright colors and softer edges fall in line with the artist’s movement of fluidity and fantasy of femininity.
Park’s paintings reflects their intention to defy binary gender standards and racialized beauty. In their words, “I want to depict an ideal rather than the earthen everyday reality because fantasy and ideal are important to me, and they attract me. I escape the everyday through fantasy. If my art can help others do the same, I will be happy.”
“I escape the everyday through fantasy. If my art can help others do the same, I will be happy.”
I encourage those who can to visit Chun Park’s intimate reflection of androgyny, Northeast Asian beauty, and the expression of what womanhood is and can be. The Expression of Onnagata: Fluidity and Timelessness will be displayed at the One Art Space Gallery from July 26th through August 1, 2022.