Why do most characters in Japanese anime and popular video games have white features that are nonexistent or uncommon among Northeast Asians, such as a narrow and pointy nose, colored iris and hair, and double eyelids?
As a young boy in South Korea, I grew up watching Japanese anime, such as Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, and Cyber Formula. Although I am a Korean, I follow the model of the onnagata, who are Japanese male performers of femininity in Kabuki theatre, because I fantasize about becoming a female myself. This is the reason why I found myself repeatedly painting Northeast Asian beauty in my own image.
(While I recognize the inherent conflict in a Korean depicting themself as a Japanese female - in many of their paintings - and I am fully aware of the historical and political issues between Korea and Japan, I embrace the role of the onnagata because the androgynous Japanese male performers have mastered the art of performing femininity through mimesis and emulation. I also find the traditional hair style and practices of Japanese women very iconic and alluring; it is only through the investigation of the other that I can see myself in the mirror.)
My art attempts to restore an authentic vision of Northeast Asian Beauty through the pursuit of an original Northeast Asian beauty prior to its racialization, or a hybrid beauty, which incorporates certain non-Northeast Asian traits and stylizations borrowed from other cultures and peoples (as part of the Northeast Asian identity). According to Shirley Anne Tate, because beauty traits and practices are constantly borrowed and shared between and among various people, there is no true original Northeast Asian beauty prior to racialization. The alternative, which is the hybrid beauty, borrows western dress, makeup, and use of plastic surgery to maintain and redefine the Northeast Asian beauty and identity, without necessarily striving to become white.
Like gender, beauty is performative and relies on a never-ending repetition of performance to become realized. Through my paintings, I depict myself as a woman and actualize the Northeast Asian beauty through idealization, like plastic surgery. My paintings become a mirror in which I see a Northeast Asian beauty.