Exposure: Leonard Suryajaya

Here, art director Gem Fletcher profiles the work of Leonard Suryajaya – a queer, second-­generation Chinese Indonesian photographer who is exploring his own identity

“There are people in the world who wake up not in fear.” These words, from the queer visual artist Leonard Suryajaya, speak profoundly to the challenges of being an outsider and the complexity of navigating intersectional identities.

Suryajaya grew up in Northern Sumatra as a second-­generation Chinese Indonesian. Life was confusing; many aspects of his iden­tity were oppressed. He was forced to hide his Chinese heritage and his queerness, as Indonesia uses strict anti-pornography laws to threaten the lives of the LGBTQI community. From a young age, he yearned to escape.

Top: Musing, 2016; Above: Kinfolk Lipsync, 2017

Suryajaya now resides in Chicago and has embedded his life experiences into every facet of his work, testing the boundaries of intimacy, community and identity. His subjects, often family, friends and lovers, work in collaboration with him to create a kind of absurd theatre within the frame.

Fantasy collides with reality; every image is densely packed with information. Sets are meticulously curated from the personal belongings of his sitters. He combines these with culturally coded objects, flora and fauna, and printed fabric to envision a rich chaos that ­equally overwhelms and entices.

(With Sister, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousin) Mom as Bodhisattva, 2015
Good Neighbours, 2018
Arisan, 2017

Each project marks a chapter in his life. False Idol, created during his US green card application process, explores notions of citizenship and belonging, while Don’t Hold Onto Your Bones is about his coming out experience with his mother.

“The ultimate goal of making work is to communicate my humanity and be a part of this world,” he says. “It gives me a great deal of freedom.”

Familial, 2016
Dad and All of His Trophies, 2015



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