I came to the United States in 1975 as a refugee from Vietnam. Death and identity are the underlying themes of my work as I explore my memories of violence and chaos of the Vietnam War and my assimilation into Western culture.
My current project is titled Assimulation. It is a tragic comedy dealing with race, sex, and gender, with respect to cultural assimilation. These staged black-and-white self-portrait photographs use traditional Asian theatrical form and visual language to imitate and to interpret classical Western paintings, as well as myths and fairy tales. Assimulation uses the visual language of one culture to simulate that of another - an artistic assimilation analogous to the simulation in cultural assimilation. However, the self-conscious artifice serves only to highlight the artificiality inherent in the process of assimilation. Assimulation is thus an acknowledgment of a culturally "in-between" place, where one belongs to both cultures, yet at the same time to neither. The Eurasian Sui Sin Far wrote in 1909:
After all, I have no nationality and am not anxious to claim any... 'You are you and I am I' says Confucius. I give my right hand to the occidentals and my left to the orientals, hoping that between them they will not utterly destroy the insignificant 'connecting link.'
Pipo's series of toned silver prints, called Assimulation (1995), presents images of the artist as Western mythological and cultural figures, such as Medusa or Icarus, posed in traditional Asian costumes, gestures, and makeup. All the works are beautifully composed, with dark backgrounds and stark lighting that emphasize a staged quality. Most of the prints are large and framed in dark wood with small metal plaques bearing the work's title, also referring to a Western tradition of painting that focuses our attention on the image as separate and different from its surroundings.
Not only do the artist's works cross-reference Eastern and Western cultures but they intersect male and female. In the Kabuki tradition, Pipo plays both men and women - but with a twist. For example, in Adam & Eve, an allusion to The Ghent Altarpiece, he is both Adam and Eve, using paper cones taped to his chest for breasts. Seen as self-portraits, these works also may reveal an auto- biographical process of an individual's attempts to assimilate into a new culture or gender; however, they also draw parallels between that personal process and a larger, cultural process of assimilation that is reflected in artistic methods of appropriation. Both processes, as Pipo points out, are inherently artificial, and yet they may serve to produce new forms of personal and cultural imagery. -Kathleen Shields (from Parallaxis, Fifty-five Points to View. Western States Arts Federation 1997, pp. 138).
Pipo attended the MFA program in photography at the University of New Mexico. He is currently teaching at Southern Oregon University, as well as curating for the Schneider Museum of Art. Pipo has also been awarded a Fellowship at Art Matters, NYC, 1996; an American Photography Institute National Graduate Fellowship, Tisch School of the Arts, NYC, 1995; a Professional Development Grant, College Arts Association, NYC, 1995; an Artist-in-Residence at The Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT, 1997; and an Artist-in-Residence at the Lila Wallace-Reader Digest's Artists at Giverny, Monet's Garden, Giverny, France, 1998.