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TriBeCa Artist Marries 50 Men in 50 States in New Documentary

Maria the Korean Bride
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Maria Yoon

TRIBECA — She doesn’t consider herself a marriage expert, but Maria Yoon has become something of an authority on quickie nuptials.

The TriBeCa performance artist and filmmaker set out on a quest, and extended art project, more than a decade ago to marry a different man in each of the 50 states, capturing nearly every wedding ceremony on film, in hopes of better understanding what marriage really means.

Now she’s turned her weddings — none of which were legally binding — into a full-length documentary that not only gives glimpses into her quirky ceremonies, but also explores the concepts of marriage and love.

Her film, "Maria the Korean Bride: The Voice of Unmarried Asia American Women," will make its New York City debut at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center on Sept. 28.

Her unconventional journey, she said, was a reaction to the intense pressure she felt from her Korean immigrant parents to settle down as soon as she turned 30.

“My mom bought me this beautiful, traditional Korean wedding dress, called a hanbok, when I turned 30, as an extra nudge to get married,” said Yoon, 42. “I thought it was crazy — but I also really loved the dress, and I think I found a good way to put it use — I’ve worn it in every ceremony.”

Yoon, 42, found her wedding partners, who include a cowboy from Wyoming, a drag queen from Las Vegas, a couple of women and, in a few instances, animals or inanimate objects, through a combination of chance encounters, online ads and, in the case of her final wedding ceremony in Times Square, a raffle.

"I've gotten criticism from people saying I'm making a mockery of marriage," Yoon said. "But that's not at all what's going on here, I think marriage is important and sacred for people, but it's different and means something different to everyone."

And, though it wasn't her goal, her marriage journey has actually led to her finding love.

Early on in the project, Yoon said, she met her now fiancé. "I met him the day before one of my weddings. He thought the project was interesting, and he showed up at the ceremony," Yoon said."But I put him to work — I made him videotape the ceremony."

Yoon also eventually put him in her film. "He's my groom in Rhode Island," she said, adding that the two don't have plans for their own, binding marriage ceremony just yet.

"We've been together for years now," Yoon said. "I think I've learned that getting married is about each of you wanting to make the other person happy — I didn't really think about marriage that way before the project."