Overseas, the Karen have been waging a decades long war for liberation against the Burmese military junta’s violent reign. The working title of this series refers to the concept of Kawthoolei or the endonym for an autonomous nation that the Karen have sought to establish in Myanmar. It also speaks to what I feel is the community’s greater desire for visibility and agency within the United States.
“A Proposed State” continues my lifelong pursuit engaging with the daily lives and histories of emerging Asian and Pacific Islander communities, often specific ethnic groups that experienced forced migration- the marginalized within the margins.
What I am doing differently from years and projects past is more deeply weaving the concept of locality and diasporic experience visually. As such, these pictures are heat transferred inkjet prints ironed on garden grown and handmade Milkweed paper from the Morgan Conservancy in the neighboring city of Cleveland.
There are larger Karen communities across the United States. However, my connection to them would not have the same personal stake. There is something shared between the community and myself in this reality of finding our place in Northeast Ohio as a second, surrogate home. In marrying into a family who is historically from Cuyahoga County, this location has become a place of new roots and memories for me as well.
The caption for one of Ajino’s albums is aptly titled: "Homeland picture: This is a Country,Town,village and land when I was a little kid but not like as before, everything is change till I couldn't recognized anything at all"
Being out here, speaking with community members, and thinking about the fraught category of "Asian American", obfuscation appears closer to what's on the ground.
It is a fight to preserve let alone define who they are. Especially for a working class community trying to survive the pandemic, there is no incentive as a community to remember or communicate who they are.
I am uncomfortable with the descriptive mode of documentary photography of literally presenting a legible image of otherness for an audience's consumption. The point isn't to bring what's beneath the surface towards the Mainstream or towards a Flashpoint.
These pieces represent a universal period of uncertainty in which it's unclear the ways in which culture itself is changing for this community. What is retained over time? What is lost for good? It's a crossfade.In 2022, the Karen Community of Akron and I will be working with Curator Adriel Luis and the Smithsonian Institution's Asian Pacific American Center on a public arts initiative.