Who Are We: A Project by Xiaomei Chen


 
Who is he?
Who is she?
Who are they?
Who are you?
Who are we?
 
You see Steve Jobs, Woody Allen, Mao, Marilyn Monroe, Liu Xiaoqing (a famous Chinese actress)  as Wu Zetian (an empress in China’s Tang Dynasty, one of the most powerful women in world’s history), Dalai Lama, Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi and her next door neighbor… But you see more unrecognizable faces. Faces from different cultures and different times.
 
What lies between Aung San Suu Kyi and her next door neighbor who lives in extreme poverty? What lies between Obama and an unknown black young boy in Brazil? What lies between Mao and Monroe? What lies between celebrities and nobodies, between you and me?
 
If Steve Jobs had been born in a different country and culture, or into a different family, a different class, would he still have been the founder of Apple Computer?
 
If Mao had been born at a different time, would he still have been the dictator of China? Without Maoism, would China have been the country it is now? Would I, a Chinese citizen, have a different fate?
 
If the young Burmese boy had been born in Europe, how would his life be different?
 
If Obama had grown up in Africa, would he have become the US president as he is now? Is he really as important as is believed? Or is he actually replaceable? Are any “important people” replaceable?
 
And what about us “nobodies”? Are we really unimportant as we believe? Aren’t we important to our loved ones at least?  Aren’t we able to change the world if we make collective efforts?
 
So who are we? What make who we are?
 
All these questions lead to this project called “Who Are We.”It is meant  to push people to think about these questions, too.
 
The project includes three part: a video, a book and a photo show, each consisting of 360 images, which are layers of different faces belonging to people from different places and times.  Each image contains several layers of faces and evolves into a different person. This enables us to see the similarities between unrelated people. The point is:  we are not that different from others and no one is really that much more or less important than others. To some extent, we are all nobodies as Dickinson writes in her poem, particularly when put to the big context of the universe and the long history. But it is all relative. We can be somebody in a different context.  Aren’t we important to our loved ones?
 
There is a reason to end the video with Emily Dickinson’s portraits overlaid with other’s and her poem. I don’t start the video with a title or introduction because I hope to arouse curiosity, let the audience ask questions, and let Emily Dickinson’s poem answer the questions.
 
The ideal presentation is a show of three parts:
 
1. A video running constantly;
2. A photo show of 360 images moving slowly  in a big circle. You can start viewing the images from any one, and still find that each one shares something with the ones beside it. Any image can be a starting point or ending point;
3. A flip book – when you flip the book, you make a video, too, and can see the transition from one face to another. I am also considering to make the book 720 pages – to give 360 blank pages for the readers to make their own “who are we” vision.

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