SunTek Chung’s elaborately staged photographs are brilliant send-ups of cultural clichés, with an edge.
Suntek Chung Statement
SunTek Chung’s elaborately staged photographs are brilliant send-ups of cultural clichés, with an edge. Populated by a variety of classic Asian and American stereotypes, his scenarios break open such contrived depictions by synthesizing numerous eastern and western social signifiers to demonstrate that stereotypes, whatever form they come in, may just as easily apply to one culture as to another.
Chung himself plays the role of protagonist in these fictitious scenarios that fall somewhere between Cindy Sherman’s objectifying film stills and David LaChapelle’s outrageous productions. By dramatically changing his appearance and demeanor in every role, he becomes the perfect foil for canned notions of nationalistic homogeneity and requisite expectations of masculinity. In his earlier images, Chung confronts generic depictions of martial arts heroes by presenting a side of these characters rarely seen. While a stealthy ninja daydreams of a life filled with love, like the kind offered in the romance novel he clutches in his hand, a kung-fu master turns fierce cricket player, striking a pose under a Shinto archway papered in Connecticut plaid. American stereotypes are turned on their ear in photographs of an Asian variety beer-blunted redneck celebrating the rise of another South (that of South Korea) and a lawn-obsessed suburbanite who tames his rice-patty plots with an extravagant array of gardening tools. The word assimilation takes on a whole new meaning after viewing Chung’s alternate versions of the quintessential Asian American male.
In his most recent images, Chung turns to pop-cultural themes—both high and low, past and present—for inspiration, and he invites other characters to play along. Huck Finn and Jim are cross- referenced with Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul Jabbar as they steer their raft towards a better world, freed from the cultural detritus that weighed them down. Daedalus and Icarus, clad in Chinese silk hot pants, their wings constructed from an assortment of defunct electrical fans, are caught in a fall from grace that is both physical and metaphorical.
As humorous as they may be, a closer look at Chung’s images reveals the unsettling presence of a man hiding in plain site—the artist himself—whose identity games offer up a searing critique of the humiliating stereotyping that we are all complicit in at one time or another.