Cindy Trinh, a Vietnamese-American former lawyer, first rose to fame as a photographer and visual journalist with her 2015 series The Model Minority Reality. In it, through gritty, black-and-white photos, she detailed the struggles of working-class Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants as they try to make a life for themselves in America. Her intent was to show that the definition of “model minority,” which carries a connotation of wealth and privilege, does not actually hold true.
As an expansion of this project, she put together the collection No Boundaries, now on view at NY Arts Center, which aims to offer a zoomed-in snapshot of various Chinatowns across the world. Unlike the dark, somberness portrayed in The Model Minority Reality, this is a world full of color, texture, and vibrancy, with food being a welcome protagonist, and with a strong human element: nearly all photos consist of half-length portraits of people. Featured Chinatowns include, but are not limited to, the ones in New York (in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens), Montreal, Paris, Bangkok, and San Francisco.
It’s a project rooted in nostalgia. “My earliest memory of going to Chinatown was in Southern California, where I was born and raised,” she tells Hyperallergic. The daughter of two Vietnamese refugees, she grew up in a predominantly immigrant town in Orange County, California and was constantly surrounded by Asian Americans and other people of color. Upon moving to New York in 2008, she was instantly drawn to its Chinatown. “It gave me nostalgic feelings of home and growing up in an Asian-American neighborhood,” she explains. “The food, the smell, the people, the noise, and the colors all reminded me of my childhood past.”
Through this series, however, she wants to correct a common misconception, namely that Chinatown indicates a predominantly Chinese neighborhood. “Chinatown was built because immigrants were forced to create these communities due to racism and discrimination,” she explains. “There are many other Asian ethnic groups within Chinatown, for example Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Indonesian.”
Each Chinatown she visited, of course, was different from the others: The Paris one, for instance, has a predominantly Vietnamese population. “Bangkok, Thailand is unique in that it is a “Chinatown” within a Southeast Asian country,” she says. “Bangkok was definitely the most vibrant Chinatown I have ever visited so far. The streets are packed with people and it is always so busy.” The San Francisco one has a historical significance: it is best known for being the oldest Chinatown in the United States. The one in Montreal, Canada, has, Trinh explains “the unique feel of the French Canadian, Quebec culture and architecture.”
What ties the series together is the wide-spread presence of food, whether it be lush market greens, sausages glistening with fat, or packages of various comfort foods. “I am a real foodie and I love Chinatown because of the food there, so of course a lot of my photos showcases food,” she tells us. “When I enjoy my food in Chinatown, I think about the workers that were vital in getting this food to me. It’s actually the main reason why I started this series in the first place.” Food was an essential part of the daily lives of her family, friends, and community, not to mention her culture, “I wanted to really highlight the people that make food for others to enjoy because I have so much respect for them,” she says.
In all, No Boundaries reaches the opposite conclusion of the one in The Model Minority Reality. Where the previous series painted a dark picture made of strife, No Boundaries presents a more optimistic message, showing the way each individual portrayed is an integral part of the Chinatown they live in, a small, but indispensable force in their own immigrant community.
No Boundaries is on view at NY Arts Center (78 Bowery, Chinatown, Manhattan), until September 30.
The artist’s portrait of her mother, painted in 1977 and reproduced on the vaporetti of Venice, may be one of the most evocative artworks in the Biennale.
A new box set of four of the Iranian director’s features offers a great opportunity to get to know his singular style.
Shows at the Hudson Valley’s Hessel Museum of Art feature artists Dara Birnbaum and Martine Syms, as well as new scholarship on Black melancholia as an artistic and critical practice.
It’s not a “greatest hits” show, or a comprehensive survey; rather, it is a starting point to reconsider an expansive vision of Chicana/o art.
“I’m focused on contemporary Native American stories, the modern-day ups and downs of that lifestyle, but I’m not trying to do it in a traditional manner,” the award-winning filmmaker told Hyperallergic in an interview.
PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs reveals the “career in photography” that occupied the artist in the last three years of his life.
The Tweet comparing an ominous screen capture from the Tucker Carlson Show to one of Holzer’s Truisms is being sold as an NFT to benefit crucial organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Pérez was sentenced to nine years.
Contemporary Black-Indigenous women artists Rodslen Brown, Joelle Joyner, Moira Pernambuco, Paige Pettibon, Monica Rickert-Bolter, and Storme Webber are featured in this digital exhibition.
On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to undo 50 years of constitutional rights to abortion, artist Elana Mann’s “protest rattles” feel especially poignant and urgent.
This week, Title IX celebrates 50 years, the trouble with pronouns, a writer’s hilarious response to plagiarism allegations, and much more.
Since antiquity, women’s eyebrows have been sites of intense scrutiny, constantly shifting between trend cycles.