Tag Archives: art


San Diego Asian Film Festival ‘Remembers Queer Korea’


Gay South Korean filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-soo and his partner, Kim Seung-hwan, made headlines in the media last year when they held a public wedding ceremony and attempted to register as a married couple in Seoul. It was hailed as a “trailblazing” act in a society where same-sex unions aren’t recognized, while traditional values and religious conservatism keep a tight lid on any LGBT discourse.

It was certainly a bold move in modern Korea, but it definitely wasn’t the first time LGBT issues came up in Korean history and popular culture, according to Todd Henry, an assistant professor and acting director of the Program in Transnational Korean Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

“As someone who is studying history, I just have to say to myself, maybe this is just a media play, that newspapers want publicity,” Henry told KoreAm. “But in terms of historical background and [record], why is it that South Korean society wants to forget that it has a tradition of same-sex people who try to dignify their relationships through matrimony?”

Researchers in South Korea and the United States, including Henry have traced LGBT and queer themes through Korean history, but they’ve never been able to gather in one place—until this past weekend. The Pacific Arts Movement, in partnership with UCSD, held a landmark retrospective on the subject this past weekend at the 15th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival. Titled “Remembering Queer Korea,” the program featured screenings at the UCSD campus for six South Korean films, a video exhibition featuring an all-female musical troupe and a three-day academic symposium.

“The program represents our interest in giving context to Asian cinema and Asian cultures,” said Brian Hu, the artistic director for the festival, “that there is a history to the kind of independent production and self-represenation going on in Korea and elsewhere.

“When we think of seeing no limits, we also want to inspire audiences to see beyond the limits of the present, in addition to seeing beyond heteronormativity, especially as it has shaped discourses of the nation and globally in Korea,” Hu continued, speaking on the theme of the festival, “See No Limits.”

The six films, in particular, evoke the “remembering” among different genres. Dramas like The Pollen of Flowers (1972) and Sabangji (1988) were released into a repressive environment during the presidential dictatorship period. Other films, like the drama Broken Branches (1996), which dealt with the subject of homosexuality and family, were released at a time when South Korea was experiencing a wave of social changes.

Broken-Branches-2-770x433Broken Branches (Photo courtesy of San Diego Asian Film Festival)

Sabangji-2-770x433Sabangji (Photo courtesy of San Diego Asian Film Festival)

Henry was a graduate student in South Korea in the 1990s, and became involved in some of the movements taking hold. Human rights and student organizations, as well as film festivals, were leading the discourse, particularly in LGBT topics.

“I was very curious to know the deeper roots and origins of the kind of phenomena I was witnessing in the 1990s,” Henry said. “It occurred to me that it probably wasn’t the first time that a film dealing with LGBT issues was screening, nor was it probably the first time that two people of the same sex were seeking to get married or falling in love with one another.”

“Remembering Queer Korea” came from that curiosity and eventually took tangible form once Henry took up his position at UCSD in 2009. After Henry met the members of the Pacific Arts Movement (then called San Diego Asian Film Foundation), the project began taking shape.

“The idea was that filmmakers were doing a lot of the same kind of work that academic historians were: doing interviews, writing their own narratives of modern Korea,” said Hu, now in his fourth year with the festival. “Meanwhile, there are queer images from the 1970s and ‘90s in Korean cinema that serve as an archive of a similar counter-history. So we put together a slate of films that allow history, curiosity, cinema and memory to speak to each other in creative and provocative ways.”

On the academic side, Henry said there was a “scattered discourse” of “scattered people” working on LGBT topics in South Korea, which is why the symposium over the weekend was so special. Nearly a dozen researchers from South Korea and the U.S. led a three-day discussion on LGBT themes in modern Korean history, from the early 20th century and into the present.

Henry said the goal is to publish a book with the other researchers that would challenge what people may think about same-sex marriage in South Korea. The book would also aim to provide an overview of how queerness has appeared in modern Korean history and how we might rethink that history from this new perspective.

“In Korea [same-sex marriage] is seen as something relatively new,” he explained, “as in it just happened in the past 10-15 years, or it’s simply an import from the United States or Europe–that is to say, foreign and not indigenous to Korea.

“My work aims to debunk that national myth by showing that throughout the post-1945 period, discussion and debate about women who, although not officially and legally marrying one another, were nonetheless unofficially and symbolically marrying one another was a very frequent and important part of South Korea’s low-brow popular culture.”

Yeosung gukgeuk, a traditional form of all-female musical theater, was also popular in Korean pop culture during the 1950s. It’s the subject of artist siren eun young jung’s project “(Off)Stage / Masterclass,” her latest exhibition in exploring gender roles in traditional Korean performances. Siren spent years studying the possibility of yeosung gukgeuk translating to the modern feminist perspective and through the subversiveness of gender politics, according to Blouin Art Info.

The documentary The Girl Princes (2012), which also screened at the festival, chronicles the short-lived rise and brisk fall of yeosung gukgeuk and follows many of the former performers today as they reminisced on their careers and legacies. During their heyday, Hu writes, the stars were idolized by fans to the point of even stalking and suicide. The women were able to explore a much broader range of emotions and experiences than what was socially acceptable in the 1950s as they formed strong sisterhoods, while some even found love.

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The Girl Princes (Photo courtesy of Indie Plus)

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Girl Princes 1

“Art brings another medium through which we try to remember the past and which has resonance in the present,” Henry said. “It’s interesting to me that in contemporary Korea, you have a female director [Kim Hye-jung] who makes Girl Princes, [and] you have siren’s art piece, which is also about the same topic. … In Korea, you have various individuals who are also writing academic papers about the same all-female theatrical group.

“I think what’s really changed in the present is that since the 1990s, the public discourse is not only dominated by outsiders who are gazing at queer things, or using them for their own exploitive or sexploitive purposes. Instead, filmmakers, authors, and speakers who represent a queer way of life, or certain kinds of queer identity have become increasingly active in representing their own interests, and on their own terms.”


Soo Min Kim Transforms Starbucks Paper Cups Into Art


The Starbucks siren is one of the most recognizable logos in the world, but for the past few years, Korean artist Soo Min Kim has been reinventing the iconic green siren’s image with his incredibly detailed and creative illustrations.

A self-described “paper cup artist,” Kim creates his art by first painting the cup white except for the siren and then drawing a new scene with a green marker. Kim has transformed hundreds of sirens into both original characters and pop-culture figures such as Psy, the Avengers, Darth Vader, and more. Recently, his art has become even more elaborate with cups now displaying cutouts and tea lights, adding depth to the illustrations.

Here are some of his amazing cup artworks:

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“Career” depicts a scene from the movie Wanted. (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)


Starbucks siren turned saiyan. Kamehameha! (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)


“Kentucky Fried Coffee” (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)

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“The Fighting” combines the use of a paper cup and painted canvas. (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)

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“Grow Up” uses various sizes of Starbucks cups from short to venti. (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)


A Starbucks cup that features Facebook’s “like” icon with a pop of blue. (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)

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“View From an Open Window” (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)


“Black Moon” (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)


The Starbucks siren as an Avenger. (Photo: Soo Min Kim/Fseo)

Kim occasionally posts time-lapse videos of his cup art process. To check out more of his Starbucks artworks, visit Kim’s official blog, Facebook, or YouTube.

Giant Rubber Duck

Giant Rubber Duck To Visit Seoul Amid Construction Tensions


The world-famous, giant rubber duck will visit Seoul in what may be the highest-profile foreign visit to Korea since Pope Francis arrived via Kia Soul in August.

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s 300-kg (~660 lbs), 54-foot tall giant rubber duck will be on display for one month, beginning Oct. 14, in Seokchon Lake, next to Lotte Group’s controversial construction project in Seoul.

The site hasn’t been all too popular with anyone lately. The city has demanded additional safety and transport measures before allowing it to open, and the general public wasn’t too happy about the sinkholes that appeared in the area as well as the drop in water level in the lake. Neither the holes or water decline have been linked to the construction of the complex, but they certainly haven’t helped its image.

The rubber duck has drawn millions of visitors since it began touring around the world in 2007. According to its official website, The Rubber Duck Project is intended to “heal wounds” and relieve tension.”

Image via Rubber Duck Project Seoul

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Korean Ceramics Documentary to Enter Sundance


A documentary on the craft of Korean ceramics will be competing in the documentary portion of the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, reports the Korea Times.

A Thousand Year Journey, directed by Michael Oblowitz, explores the history of the craft in Korea, from the Goryeo Porcelains to the Joseon White Porcelain. It will feature five Korean master ceramicists and their processes in creating their pieces.

The documentary also explores the legacy of Korean ceramics in contemporary culture. Despite its rudimentary beginnings, there are influences of the art in the production of their transistor boards, motherboards and microchips, which are the basis for South Korea’s tech giants, Samsung and LG.

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The traditional craft of Korean ceramics has experienced a recent resurgence in Icheon, Korea, but it has yet to enjoy the same widespread global popularity of Chinese and Japanese ceramics, according to Edward Ahn, president of the Cultural Foundation of America. The documentary, he hopes, will increase knowledge of the art.

Photo via Yonhap

Blank Canvas Image

Aspiring Artists, the ‘Blank Canvas’ is Yours

Are you an aspiring artist or designer? KoreAm U’s Blank Canvas is here for you to showcase your work, all for free!

In a similar light to our Student Spotlight feature, Blank Canvas is another opportunity for students in KoreAm U to showcase themselves to the Korean American student community. We invite you to utilize this as a online portfolio-lite!

Here’s the information you’ll need to submit to create your own Blank Canvas profile:

School & Major
3-5 pieces of the work you’re most proud of, along with a title and short description of each piece
A link to your official online portfolio
A profile picture of yourself
Answer this question: Where you do you find your inspiration?

Please submit your information to koream.u@iamkoream.comwith the subject line, “BLANK CANVAS.” We will begin drawing up your profile immediately and let you know once it’s up!

Be sure to check out Student Spotlight, Alumni Archive and, for our writers, First Draft! If those don’t fit you, there’s always I Am KoreAm.


Adorable Drawings Made With Everyday Items by Hyemi Jeong


Hyemi Jeong is a 21-year-old Toronto-based engineering student, whose hobby is creating adorable and clever illustrations that incorporate everyday objects.

Simple and whimsical, Jeong’s drawings look like they’re straight from a children’s picture book. While food seems to be a common prop in her work, she uses a wide range of household items including jewelry, safety pins, bottle caps, and more.

“I came to Canada to study English a few months ago,” Jeong told the Digital Journal. “When I was in Korea, I didn’t have enough time to enjoy something I like. However, I have much free time here in Toronto, more than before.”

Jeong shares her illustrations on Instagram with over 5,000 followers. Below are some of her charming artworks:

If you like Hyemi’s work, check out more of her illustrations on Instagram.


Seoul Transforms Urban Eyesores Into Creative, Artistic Spaces


An unused factory, a vacated government building, an abandoned commercial space—all are considered eyesores for a city. But, more and more, such sites in Seoul are being replaced by “creative spaces” that that may be ushering in an artistic renaissance for the city, while also fighting urban blight.

Sindang Creative Arcade, for example, today is home to artists who do work in pottery, textiles, photography and other crafts, and have access to 41 workstations. But before this transformation, the place was described as a “dungeon” located in the underground shopping center of the Joongang Traditional Market in Sindang-dong, which had teemed with small businesses a decade ago but had long been empty.

The Sindang Creative Arcade is one of nine “creative spaces” created by the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, an arm of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Each creative space boasts a central theme that inspires the project. The Yeonhui Writer’s Village hosts writers’ rooms and a literary media lab, while the Seongbuk Art Creativity Center, built at an old community health center, focuses on healing-by-art programs.

Artist Ann Hyun-suk led the Folding Zip House project last year at the Seongbuk Center. It was a campaign with both artistic, as well as economic and humanistic value, as participants worked to transform old, donated clothes into sleeping bags for the homeless, according to the Korea Herald. The project promoted healing for everyone involved, from the citizens who donated their clothes for a good cause to the homeless who came “to realize that they are not neglected,” said the article.

Such projects represent an effort “rooted in a ‘culturenomics’ goal,” according to a statement from the Seoul foundation. The strategy is to recycle “underutilized urban facilities and resources,” while also supporting artists and benefiting Seoul citizens at large. The overarching goal: to transform Seoul into a “creative cultural city.”


Before and after photos of the underground section of the Joongang Traditional Market (via Korea Herald).

Artists can access these creative spaces by submitting an application and paying a minimal fee, while also committing to certain obligations, such as helping set up public programs, according to the Korea Herald article.

“Artists are foremost in need of a space where they can engage in artistic endeavors,” Ahn Kyung-hee, one of the artists in residence at the Sindang Creative Arcade, told the Korea Herald. And once these artists can realize their artistic aspirations in these spaces, they can foster a creative relationship with the public.



As part of the Folding Zip House Project, led by the Seongbuk Art Creativity Center, donated clothes were made into sleeping bags

for the homeless. The sleeping bags were displayed at the center’s gallery prior to their distribution. (Via Korea Herald)

Top photo via HansHostel.net


LACMA Exhibition Showcases Treasures from Korea


In one room, an immense painting of the disturbing yet almost beautiful torture of sinners by the Three Kings of Hell is prominently displayed. Expressions of despair, agony and cruel satisfaction are clearly detailed by the varying shades of green, brown and red ink on the masterfully woven silk. In another room, an engraving of a roaring dragon over tidal waves and mountains on a majestic brass jar sat along other ritual vessels.

Starting from June 29 until September 28, the Los Angeles County Museum or Art will be presenting “Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392–1910,” the first-ever, comprehensive exhibition of nearly 150 beautiful objects from Korea’s longest ruling dynasty. Viewers will get a chance to explore and experience the 500 years of traditions, custom and history of these artifacts, some of them considered national treasures.

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Colorful traditional dresses, elegantly painted porcelain jars, enormous scrolls containing messages from kings and commoners and stunning painted screens used for royal ceremonies are aesthetically set up in five different rooms. Michael Govan, the director of LACMA, described the exhibition an international collaboration that symbolizes the “culmination of the relationship between our two nations.”

Virginia Moon, assistant curator of Korean art at LACMA, viewed this exhibition to be important specifically for Los Angeles because the region boasts such a sizable Korean American population. However, Moon said this exhibition should also draw non-Koreans due to the growing awareness of Korea in the States. “Especially since more people know about Korean food, K-pop and K-drama so I think it’s a little easier to express interest in Korean art now,” she said.

For more information on the exhibit, visit lacma.org.

Top photo by Tony Kim.