Different Blood Type investigates the intricate and complicated layers of selfhood in the context of cultural background, sexual preference, and personal displacement. It follows artist Leonard Suryajaya’s (MFA 2015) travels to his home country as a second generation Chinese Indonesian and explores questions of belonging, family attachment, nationality, and a experience of self that is both familiar and foreign.
The exhibition distills the artist’s concept of selfhood and understanding of family. The particular building blocks of Suryajaya’s identity were both emphasized and undermined by experiences of oppression in his youth: as a young child, he and his family fled Indonesia from riots and violence aimed at ethnic Chinese people. He gradually came to realize that the hostility he experienced was a result of his physical appearance and cultural markings.
Ironically, his cultural identity was not strictly Chinese, and the relativity of perspectives he encountered growing up—with Buddhist parents and Christian schooling in a Islamic country—meant that he didn’t deeply identify with any of them. This feeling of being an ‘outsider’ finds expression in the curatorial arrangement of the gallery, where photographs, video, and installation combine to challenge and deconstruct an experience of self identification in the context of a diverse and globalized world.
The gradual realization of his queer sexuality further alienated the artist from his traditional family and conservative country. He suppressed and conformed until he was able to leave the country to make a new life for himself. A promise from his mother that he would one day live abroad gave him hope that these conflicting aspects of his identity might be resolved. Still, despite finding a new sense of freedom in Chicago, Suryajaya realized fleeing his family and country was not the solution to the ambivalence he felt about his upbringing.
In December 2014, Suryajaya decided to confront his fears and come out to his family. He documented his stay in Indonesia, including his grandfather’s unexpected passing, with the intention to have the video as a memento of his family in the event that they disowned him. The work, and thus the exhibition, becomes a record of the failure to understand the resilience of family attachment and the challenge of individuation.