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New Jersey Photographer Maria Lau Explores Her Chinese-Cuban Heritage
Maria Lau, Kwong Wah Po, 2003. Digital C print, 16 x 24.
TRENTON, NJ.- The New Jersey State Museum is currently presenting an exhibition of photographs by New Jersey artist Maria Lau. “71. Fragments of a Dream” will remain on view in the Museum’s galleries through November 24, 2009.

“We are always especially proud to present the talents of our own New Jersey artists at the State Museum,” said Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells. “Photographer Maria Lau was born and raised in Jersey City and created 71 Fragments of a Dream from items collected during her search for her family history. The exhibition includes nineteen photographs – three in large scale, an artist-created video telling her story in both English and Spanish, as well as letters, documents and family photographs.”

Ms. Lau has been photographing Cuba since 1998 and describes her work as an on-going project to document the Cuban lifestyle that she dreamt of, but that she could not be part of, as a child. Her photographs, which often reflect her multicultural heritage, are a self-explanatory documentary in a fine art context. She came to photography after her initial studies in Latin American history and anthropology.

The series, 71. Fragments of a Dream, is a project motivated by Ms. Lau’s hope of uniting her Cuban and Chinese family. She creates photographic images through a technique of in-camera double exposure. There is always an element of chance in the process; the photographer cannot know in advance of taking the exposures how the multiple images will line up in the picture frame – what will stand out, what new pairings will square off against each other. This technique allows Lau to explore her Cuban-Chinese-American heritage and the guesswork of personal identity as phenomena of multiplicity and chance – culturally, ethnically and nationally.

Lau has said that her works from 71 “deal with the search into [her] Chinese ancestry in hope of finding surviving family members… It illustrates a journey of self-discovery within the multi-layers of [her] heritage and of this specific story.” In a 2004 interview, Lau stated, “I did start the 71 project with the hopes of uniting my family and the idea of a narrative came from my journal on that trip to Cuba. From there, I started to gather photos to illustrate that journey and I never imagined that the project would evolve the way it has. From the initial dream of uniting the Cuban and Chinese family, a series of photos, collages, video, installation and soundscapes ensued.”

The State Museum’s Curator of Fine Art Margaret O’Reilly organized the exhibition and remarks about the photographs:

“Layering of imagery through double- and triple-exposures creates works which offer multiple interpretations and meanings. While these photographs serve as documents of lives re-discovered, they also succeed on a purely visual level, as well. Composition, quality of light, and the use of saturated colors or black and white serve to create mood and draw the viewer into the work and Lau’s journey.

Because Lau’s photographs are personal, there will always be something undecipherable to the viewer. However, the cars, storefronts, streetscapes, markets and people feel familiar to us because Lau’s chronicle reminds us of our own origins, to seek our individual identity and to preserve our unique cultural identities. Her personal revelations, seen within the fragments of a dream, encourage the search for self and the discovery of authentic self. “

New Jersey State Museum | Cuba | China | Maria Lau | Photography |

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