Professor explores race in ‘Neighbors’ at Anderson Gallery

When Bohyun Yoon moved to the United States in 2001, he embraced the diversity he found in the population. The artist, who previously had lived in Korean and Japan, had heard many stereotypes based on racial differences, and he was poised to witness them materialize in person. What he encountered was a surprise.

“When I actually got to meet people of different races – when I got to talk to them – they didn’t seem so different from each other,” said Yoon, who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Craft and Material Studies in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts. “It’s not what I expected.”

Yoon began to explore race and the distinctions and tension between its surface differences and internal similarities in his artwork. One of those works, “Neighbors,” is showing on campus in the Anderson Gallery through Dec. 9, part of a fall show that includes three other exhibitions. Yoon will speak about “Neighbors” and his other work today at 5:30 p.m. in the Cool Spot Lounge on the first floor of the Anderson Gallery. The event is free and open to the public.

“Neighbors” was borne out of Yoon’s years living in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood, a diverse area popular with young artists. Yoon enjoyed the variety of characters in the community, and he began to take photographic portraits of them on the street. The portraits encompass different races, ages and genders.

For “Neighbors,” Yoon silkscreened 150 of the portraits onto glass plates and assembled them in an open rectangular structure that viewers enter. In the center is a single bare bulb, which projects the images onto the surrounding walls. As the viewer walks inside the structure that holds the glass plates, their shadow is cast on the images, integrating their presence into the work.  

Yoon said he enjoys working with glass and light – and shadow – because of the nuance those elements allow him to explore in his work. Small adjustments in the glass or the light can produce vastly different effects. For instance, viewers of “Neighbors” will find that their reaction to the work can change significantly as they walk around the room and experience it from different vantage points, though the intimacy created by the portraits that surround them is a constant.

Each portrait, Yoon said, casts shadows the same where the light is blocked but distinguishes itself in the ways the light filters through the glass. Also playing into Yoon’s exploration of the places where we differ and align are the poses of the subjects in the portraits. Some rows of portraits show the individuals looking directly at the camera, while others show them looking up or to the side. The arrangement and consistency of the photos creates a clear but complex relationship among the subjects they portray.


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Bohyun Yoon,
Bohyun Yoon, "Neighbors," 2012; steel, silkscreened glass, clamp, wire, and lamp, 6 x 10 x 10 feet (metal structure). Photograph by the artist.