JooYoung Choi and the Multiverse of Gladness
As her latest works vividly demonstrate, the Houston visual artist is the perfect balm for our era of polarization and bullying.
Some nights, alone in her bed, Stacy Schwindt gazed at the stars outside her window and wondered if she’d ever meet her birth family. She had arrived in the U.S. from South Korea in 1983, several months after she was born. To help her assimilate, her adoptive parents named her after a popular television character at the time, police officer Stacy Sheridan from the series T. J. Hooker. There was less conversation then about racial microaggressions or Asian representation in the media, but growing up in Concord, New Hampshire, which is 89 percent white, Schwindt was constantly reminded that she would never look like Heather Locklear, the blond, blue-eyed actor who portrayed Sheridan. Some of her fellow kindergartners called her “pancake face.” Later, she felt bewildered when classmates made comments such as “You’re not Asian—you’re practically white.” Adults could be just as clueless. “Why can’t you just be a good, quiet little Oriental?” her boss’s mother scolded when Schwindt was a chatty teen working at a coffee shop.
So when she looked at the stars in the sky, she would wonder: Did she have her mother’s smile, her father’s eyes? Would she ever know them? Would they love her if she did? And who was she, exactly? She thought her middle name, JeeYung, was her birth name, but knew little else. Nothing in her life felt real.
The story of the girl who became the Houston visual artist JooYoung Choi could have led somewhere dark. Instead, Choi has chosen to create art that reflects an improbably sunny outlook. Even when she explores controversial themes such as gender fluidity, racism, and social justice, her work is so playful it wouldn’t raise eyebrows in a children’s museum.