Songs to Satomi

This summer I’m interning at the Smithsonian’s Asian American Pacific Program (APAP) and our upcoming exhibition, “Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter,” is opening on August 12, 2011 at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in D.C.’s Chinatown. If you are in the area, you should definitely check it out. Luckily it’ll be fixture at the NPG until October 14, 2012, so you’ve got plenty of time to stop by!

The sick thing about “Portraiture Now” is that it’s the first time the Smithsonian Institution is putting on a major showcase of contemporary Asian American art. As a Smithsonian “insider,” minority branches like the APAP are putting forth their best effort to include their voices in the whitewashed historical/artistic/scientific/cultural narrative that the Smithsonian traditionally proffers. This exhibit will feature seven wacky artists who hail from all over the States and trace their roots back to an equally diverse number of Asian countries. Check this link out for more information:

My favorite artist of this talented, quirky, and most likely psychologically disturbed bunch is Japanese-American photographer Satomi Shirai. Satomi’s photographs are invitingly saturated with vibrant colors and brazen sexuality. While I’ve only seen a few of her photographs, I’ve noticed that the female body—bodies that are fraught with contradictory connotations such as lust, revulsion, anxiety, vanity, or grief—is often the subject of her gaze (you can check out a more complete compilation of her work here:

What’s more, Satomi photographs Asian women’s bodies. As a Korean American woman, I often find myself lost in the tides of mixed messages about my body and beauty, both which are inextricably tied with my racialized phenotype. Some think I’m exotically sexy, others think that I land too far from the standard to be considered attractive. However, after more than a few heart to hearts with my non-Asian sisters, I’m becoming more aware that all women of all races feel similarly alienated as I do. What I love about Satomi’s photos is that all women can identify with the full gambit of complex affects that her subjects emote, regardless of their Asian ethnicity. To put it simply, Satomi’s photos say to me, “Yeah, I’m a woman, and I don’t know what the fuck to think or feel about my body. But that’s the shitty and wonderful part about being a woman.”

So, the following are a few of my favorite Satomi Shirai photographs accompanied by some songs that (maybe,’s getting late and I’m tired!) capture or compliment the tone of the piece. You may totally disagree–heck, I may totally disagree with myself–in which case please tell me!

Itch+Love Rain




Bathscale+Green Eyes


Fortune Telling+All the Places

"Fortune Telling"

Breakfast+By Your Side


Miss Dre