FILTER PHOTO FESTIVAL 2015: Portfolio Review Round-Up / Leonard Suryajaya

 Photograph © Leonard Suryajaya

Photograph © Leonard Suryajaya

Photograph © Leonard Suryajaya

I met had the great pleasure to meet Leonard Suryajaya while I was a Portfolio Reviewer for the 7th Annual Filter Photo Festival in Chicago. We bonded over Sai Baba and other worldly topics. He was full of interesting fresh ideas coming from a place between two worlds; Indonesia and America. While at Filter, I reviewed over 60 photographers portfolio’s and/or book projects. I'll try to post as many as possible over the next month or so....

Influenced by the cultural milieu of experiencing intra-ethnic relations in Indonesia, my work explores intricate and complicated layers of selfhood in the context of cultural background, intimacy, sexual preference, and personal displacement. By utilizing photography, video, along with elements of performance and installation, through the use of personal narrative and story telling, my work challenges and deconstructs the perspective we use to scrutinize and observe our roles in a transnational global world.

Oppression and suppression were the themes of my childhood. Events, such as my grandfather fleeing the communist regime, eradication of Chinese culture by the Indonesian government, and escaping genocides framed my upbringing. As a second generation “Indonesian Citizen of an Alien Descent”, I was raised to witness constant cultural and religious clashes.

Although my parents are Buddhists, they put me in Christian schools to ensure a good education. But it was largely a Muslim woman, my “other” mother, who raised me. Early on, this constant “placelessness” within paradigms of self-identification urged me to someday reconcile these discrepancies.

The discovery of my sexuality also deeply alienated me from my home and family. My traditional family and conservative country didn’t permit fluid gender expression and homosexuality, so I suppressed my individuality and conformed.

I learned that my body, as the projection surface of my selfhood, is a battleground. Although it is a medium of my autonomy, it is also a medium of my oppression. I realized how my physical appearance and my cultural markings resulted in hostility against me. I realize that I was already queer before I was a homosexual.

Despite finding a new sense of freedom and agency in America, I understand that fleeing my family and country is not the solution to the ambivalence I feel about my upbringing. I am unable to fully desire this past, also unable to properly mourn its loss. Constantly placeless, confused about the validity of my familial relationships, and skeptical about the validity of my identity in the setting I am in, I never understood what sense of belonging is like.

Through an absence of physical and verbal affection in my upbringing, I use the visual medium to produce a new language of intimacy and longing. The desire for closeness, accompanied by apprehension, guides me in my exploration. I found myself using photography as an excuse to construct a new and more privately familiar world.

I use personal narratives and relationships to challenge the ubiquity of the lens based medium and exoticism in looking in creating visual experiences for the viewer to respond to. The possibilities and limitations of the lens-based mediums provide the perfect expression of an ambivalent identity. Photographs and videos provoke the viewer’s awareness of their own questions, and answer by revealing both more and less than what it is seen. It is my ambition to use my own confusing background in work that expands the viewer’s understanding of identity—both their own, and other’s. And in the process, I hope to challenge conflicting conceptions of personal and cultural identities, intimacy, physical boundaries, gender roles, sexuality, queerness and freedom.

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