Some thoughts and acknowledgements about my own and fandom portrayals of Juno and Nureyev:
Like a lot of people’s, my experience as a Penumbra artist was to listen TPP and enjoy it, wonder what the characters look like, google it and find the old official art, be like “oh, they look like that!” and draw them accordingly--but over time and as I’ve seen some criticisms leveled toward the official art, I’ve begun to move away from that and add my own headcanons about the characters (like my Juno being fat, for instance!). One thing I will never ever do in my art, though, is change Juno and Nureyev’s races--Juno is Black and Nureyev is Asian, and that matters.
I have seen concerns raised about the races chosen for them by the original official artist playing into stereotypes, but more so have seen very firm statements by Black and Asian people in the fandom that them being widely accepted/portrayed as those races is incredibly important to them. I think it’s helpful to remember that race and culture are not monoliths--if you want Juno to be Asian “instead”, he can be Black and Asian (I personally interpret him as being of Indo-African descent, which is why his outfit and the major practice done in his and Nureyev’s wedding at the end of my fic Separate but Syncopated were drawn from Hindu weddings).
I remember in one of my past fandoms, some people (read: racists) got up and arms about a character being drawn with dark skin “because she’s Russian” which... baffles me to this day. There are not only white people in Russia! Given Nureyev’s last name, I do base my interpretation of Brahma partially on Russia--but I headcanon Nureyev as being of Koryo-saram (Russian/Post-Soviet Korean) descent given that Koreans make up one of the biggest percentages of Asians living in Russia, and also inspired by TPP co-creator Harley Takagi Kaner citing the Korean-American Eugene Lee Yang as a potential cast for Nureyev.
That’s why I’ve drawn him in an outfit based on the Korean hanbok, why he uses a Korean alias in my fic That’s Not How You Pray, why I use Korean models/actors when I draw him from reference, and a couple other details (he bows in Syncopated, which is a common practice in Korean culture). I cannot and will never have a full understanding of what it’s like to be a Korean or specifically Koryo-saram person but it’s something that I will always try to take into consideration in my portrayal.
I also did not always have these headcanons--upon first joining Penumbra fandom, I was aware that Nureyev was widely accepted to be Asian and did not think past that. I saw Nureyev drawn as light-skinned in the official art, and I did not think past that. But not all Asian people are light-skinned, nor is Nureyev canonically East Asian, and many Southeast Asian populations are darker skinned. My personal interpretation of Nureyev is that he is East Asian, but not all East Asian people are light-skinned either. Eugene Lee Yang himself is not pale, nor are many people of Korean descent.
Eugene Lee Yang:
Oleksandr Sin, a Koryo saram mayor:
As I saw fans rightfully pointing this out and criticizing how ubiquitous the portrayal of Nureyev with very light skin is, I chose to draw Nureyev with darker skin instead. I’ve yet to have anyone be rude to me about that or claim I’m drawing him wrong etc, but that’s not always been true for POC fans who have drawn him with their own racial characteristics that were not present in the original official art--and I hope we as White people in fandom can do better than that moving forward.
I am always trying to do better, but I also know I have not and will not always get it right. I will never have the same perspective or knowledge as those who share their race with Juno or Nureyev--which is why I encourage everyone to check out the work from the upcoming POC Penumbra Week, which will grace your dashboards/timelines with a lot of beautiful work by people who do have that perspective.
I just wanted to talk a bit about my thought process with this stuff publicly after speaking to some folks about it in private, and to acknowledge that I’m aware my portrayals/approach to these things have not always been perfect but it is something I’ve put a lot of consideration into and I’m very open to conversations about how to change/improve. That’s all! Thanks for reading through this very long post haha.