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If Marilyn Monroe were Asian ...
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When South Korean Yoon Mi-yeon was little, she dreamed of having blond hair and blue eyes. Today as a photographer, she "crashes" contradictory images and puts blond wigs on Asian beauties.

Blond hair and blue eyes has always been one of the Western stereotypes of feminine beauty. But what happens when blond hair meets Asian eyes and features? Picture an Asian Venus, an Asian Marie Antoinette, Marilyn Monroe, Anna Nicole Smith ...

"West-East crash" fantasy images by London-based South Korean photographer Yoon Mi-yeon (Dorothy Yoon) make us think about Eastern and Western ideals of beauty. Her exhibition "13 of Blondes" - opening on Saturday at Andrew James Art - features Asian women with bleached eyebrows, blond wigs and white (or black) contemporary dress and period costumes. They are as blond as a make-up artist can make them.

The exhibition is called "13 of Blonds" because, says Yoon, she was 13 when her inspirational "angel" came to her and said she would always have blond hair and blue eyes in spirit.

In one photo, 13 blonds in varied costumes are roughly posed like figures in Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper."

Headed by blond Venus, the Roman goddess of sexual love and physical beauty, there are several categories of blonds, such as iconic (like Marilyn Monroe) figures, royal figures from history, and images from Japanese manga.

There are also images of women who upgraded their social status through the men they dated and married.

"Thrown into different situations and costumes, this blond group with Asian frames are a mixture of Western and Eastern traditional algorism (numbering), symbolisms and metaphors," says Yoon.

She calls the images "West-East crash" and tries to "find the balance between contradictions such as girl and woman, East and West, mundane and exceptional, internal and external and between fantasy and reality of myself and contemporary Asian arts."

Although stereotypes might seem the basis for Yoon's theatrical images, her work is the result of her childhood memories.

"There have always been stereotypes of beauty in each period of history and culture. For example, skinny, tall and 'Western-type' face would be the stereotype of it now in Asia," Yoon says.

The photos, however, "are more concerned with my fantasy, which is surrounded by my background and stories."

Born in Busan, the second-largest city in South Korea, Yoon says that as a child "I just naturally believed that I would have blond hair and blue eyes one day."

That's because in all the movies from the West, all Western actors spoke perfect Korean, since they were dubbed. "So I always thought I would also be a star like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean or even my own Barbie Doll."

An "angel" inspired her, Yoon says. "My middle school principal told me to cut my hair to three centimeters. After I cut it very short, I cried out desperately in front of the mirror."

At that point, "an angel from heaven with shining blond hair and the most glorious ocean-blue eyes came to me and whispered softly, 'Don't shed any tears, my darling. Look into the mirror, you will always have beautiful shining blonde hair and blue eyes that others can't see'."

The 32-year-old says her images "encompass all my past experiences and desires."

The "Last Supper"-inspired photo features 13 blonds in white standing in front of the Baekdu Mountain Range, largest on the Korean Peninsula.

The mountain is of mythical significance to South Koreans, although it lies in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and cannot be reached without a government permit. "Therefore, we call it the Close but Far Mountain," says Yoon.

"An Asian girl with blond hair and blue eyes, which could never exist in real life, and Mt Baekdu, which cannot be reached, proclaim my whole idea of a fantasy world mixed with reality," the photographer says.

"13 of Blonds"
Date: March 8-April 6 (closed on Mondays), 11am-7pm
Venue: Andrew James Art, 39 Maoming Rd N., Shanghai
Tel: 5228-7550

(Shanghai Daily March 4, 2008)

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