Mum and Dad’s Wedding day, 1977
I have never thought of myself as expressing Korean-ness or Asian-ness. Art is simply an expression of the individual.
Nam June Paik
I’m working with an artist who is mixed race American and Mexican and we often have conversations about our mixed race-ness. I’m also having similar conversations with a curator who is mixed Bangladeshi-British. It’s hard to put into words sometimes but I want there to be a connection to my Korean-ness in my work, without the need or default of discounting my britishness / englishness. I am told that it comes out in the work anyway, the way I make decisions and my approach, perhaps even my aesthetic, but I think that more and more I want to address it, conceptually, socially, historically and politically in a more direct way.
For a start sometimes I think I’m a fraud being part Korean because I don’t really have anything to do with my family or the culture and it’s only in my life because I choose to eat/cook Korean, watch Korean cinema/drama, learn the words, read Korean news. It’s a struggle sometimes and I have to place reminders in my life of it. I was brought up by my English father who, for some reason, didn’t think it important to include my korean-ness in my upbringing. Once he told me that I wasn’t Korean, but that I have a Korean mother and that was the only connection. So I am quite alone when it comes to learning about it or involving it in my daily life (let alone my practice). Still for me, it is there and I am faced with it everyday in a spiritual sense, because it is inside me and also physically because I have the features of my mother all over my face (so I am told).
These conversations with other mixed race artists often revolve around belonging and especially around the idea of not really belonging to either culture, as if we are constantly in limbo. If it is not our faces, then it might be something in the way we speak or act, or even our name that displaces us from either world. I have a very non-Korean name and it makes me sad not to have something that reflects my ‘other’ culture. It was a conscious decision made by my parents for reasons I do not know. What I do know is that my mother wanted to un-korean herself – she was attracted to the western world and her dream was to leave Korea for good… which she did for a while.
Reflecting on my work I think I have been skirting around this issue – I’m often drawn in to something that might touch on sensibilities that relate to this culture, but then for some reason stop making or acknowledge this… perhaps because it is too close to the issues of my families separation and the loss I feel about it all. I don’t want to go into too much detail about this, just to simply acknowledge it is enough at this stage and to make a conscious decision to direct my work towards these issues as I move forward.