Jean Shon

Jean Shon is a graduate student in the MFA Studio Art program at the University of California-Irvine. She received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006. Her work investigates the pathos of transitional states, displacement, and absence, by intimately connecting with people and spaces from her past. She explores concepts of identity, intergenerational conflict, loss, and trauma through photography, text, and installation works. Rather than definitive or substantive resolutions, Jean’s work focuses on the ruptures and silences produced by broader histories, mediations of knowledge passed down through generations, and partial memories that our pasts hold.

The American Dream

My photography series is a family narrative exploring concepts of identity, intergenerational conflict, displacement, and disability. It begins with my parents’ struggling motel business, and transitions to my family coping with my father’s brain cancer diagnosis and subsequent deterioration. At the motel, I observed the financial struggles, dwindling of employees, and mundane shift work. My pictures reflect the difficulty and struggles my parents went through as small business owners; the isolation of an immigrant family stationed in a small country town; the monotony of daily life; the feeling of being trapped in a job they were desperately trying to leave; the discrepancy between my parents’ lives and that of their children. My father was diagnosed with brain cancer in winter 2015, and his condition rapidly declined. I spent most of my days watching over him. I took him to doctor appointments and gave him his medication; I kept him company and helped him put together jigsaw puzzles. The complexities of the disease took a toll on his body; he gradually lost his ability to speak, see out of his right eye, and move the right half of his body. The photographs I took during this time show the frustration and challenges he experienced with his condition. The numbness and repetition of daily tasks convey the quiet struggle of being trapped in a diseased body. Unspoken bonds formed between my family, and emotional turmoil broke us. My images are a developing piece of work documenting the physical, mental and emotional state of my family in flux.

My family’s story is the alleged “American dream.” My father emigrated from South Korea to America in July 1976, enlisted in the US Army that October and became a citizen in November 1977. My parents started a humble shoe repair business in 1985, which grew into bigger and more lucrative business ventures in Texas and Louisiana. They raised three kids and managed to send us to top tier universities. When my father’s health started declining, he was treated at the Veterans hospital. As a second-generation daughter, I still seek to understand my family narrative. There’s an unspoken pull that’s drawing me back to the city I was raised in: La Marque, Texas, a small city by the coast. I revisited my hometown in Texas over the winter break to photograph. I’m interested in learning more about Asian/Asian American history in order to situate my family narrative in a broader context. Growing up in a community without people who looked like me, I always felt like an outsider. I’m using photography to explore my past, my family’s past, and our place in this town.

To view more of Jean Shon’s work please visit their website.