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Even though it is not exclusively an ‘Asian allergy’, a large number of Asian people deal with the flush. The most common symptoms are red spots all over the body, especially the face, and difficulty breathing. In as little as 20 minutes after the first drink, headaches and extreme drunkenness can occur. People experiencing these flush symptoms miss the enzyme the body needs to break down alcohol. The absence of this enzyme causes blood vessels to dilate. Alcohol then enters the system almost immediately, with a single beer causing intense physical effects. 

For The Flush project, a series of nine photographs portray South and South-East Asian individuals aged 22 to 65 who experience flush symptoms. The project came to life through personal conversations and experiences of the ignorance and shame around having and seeing the flush allergy. This leads some people to opt out of social events where drinking alcohol is expected, or to hide the flush reaction by taking unprescribed antihistamines or covering up with make-up.

With The Flush, Naomi He-Ji and Jowi Len mean to question the stigma and shame around the Asian flush in a playful yet provocative way. With this visual representation of a subject which has not enjoyed much attention, they hope to start conversations and showcase a proud representation of Asian identities with their work, to be discussed within different Asian communities and beyond. 

Each portrait has been captured on a medium-format analogue Mamiya camera, with a unique set. These sets were re-built for each model, to reflect their story and personality. The set is made from different kinds of red textures and materials. Before each shoot, we sat down with our models and chatted to them about themes such as their family, their personal relationship to alcohol and how this might differ between cultures. You can find their stories online as podcasts entitled The Flush

About Naomi He-Ji & Jowi Len

Naomi He-Ji and Jowi Len are photographers who decided to collaborate in order to showcase stories which don’t always get the attention they deserve. Over the past two years they have been diving deeper into understanding their cross-cultural heritage, and figuring out ways to build bridges between culture, identity and how these are viewed. 


Gallery 3
Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25
3015 CB Rotterdam

Het Nieuwe Instituut
Maud Vervenne