Tag Archives: art

Cosmic Womb 2

JooYoung Choi’s ‘Cosmic Womb’ Delves into Issues of Adoption, Race and Identity

Above image: “The Sacrifice of Putt Putt,” by JooYoung Choi

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

When JooYoung Choi was growing up in an adopted American family, she was one of the very few Asians—let alone adoptees—in her hometown of Concord, N.H.

“Often I was reminded by other children that I looked ‘different’ or I was so ‘weird,'” the 32-year-old Choi told the Huffington Post. “As a child, I used popular media and art to make sense of my situation of feeling and looking so different than those around me.”

Cosmic Womb 4“Blue And The Helping Hands At MC Customs Body Shop,” by JooYoung Choi

Choi’s would create a “tribe” of media figures, from figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ Lotus Blossum. When she became older, her tribe characters and themes of “adoption, race, systematic oppression, loss and liberation” would become the premise for the Cosmic Womb, a “parallel planet” portrayed through a series of paintings and video art.

Choi was influenced by a 1993 book called The Primal Wound, by Nancy Newton Verrier, which delves into the effects of disrupting the connection between a mother and child by adoption. The name “Cosmic Womb” is a reference to the Korean word for womb, jagung, which translates to “baby house.”

Cosmic Womb 1“Thanks For the Cosmic Knowledge,” by JooYoung Choi

“I decided that if there is a possible primal wound that affects adoptees, there must also be a Cosmic Womb for them to heal [in],” Choi added. “The idea that Koreans saw the womb as a house or location versus an internal organ interested me… I thought, what if my art could provide a place for the healing of loss, for the things that we lose in life, or have never known or have been forgotten?”

Choi met her birth parents in 2007 and 2008, and the artist began developing the Cosmic Womb in 2010, coining the term in that same year. It became a part of her MFA program at the Lesley University in Massachusetts.

The Cosmic Womb is populated by beings called “Tuplets” that look like East Asian girls and represent a part of the self: shyness, nervousness and happiness, among others. Their adventures are captured in Choi’s paintings—an effort to increase the visibility of Asians that the artist didn’t experience as a child, Choi says.

Choi sometimes appears in her work as a “former denizen of Earth” or as Queen Kiok. The national motto of the Cosmic Womb—”Have Faith, For You Have Always Been Loved”—is a way for Choi to address her troubled past self. Through the parallel planet of Cosmic Womb, Choi “mitigates the oppression, rootlessness and sorrow” she encounters on Earth.

Cosmic Womb 3“Have Faith, For You Have Always Been Loved,” by JooYoung Choi

You can read JooYoung Choi’s full conversation with the Huffington Post here.


All images via JooYoungChoi.com

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Columbia Grad Student Creates K-pop Boy Band ‘EXP’ for Thesis Project

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

When fans of K-pop boy group EXO recently heard about a non-Korean boy band debuting in Korea as “EXP,” they weren’t having it. Especially when they found out that this EXP group would be using the tagline “EXP Planet,” just one letter off from EXO’s “EXO Planet.”

The group was no joke. EXP’s Instagram claimed a week ago that the “first and only NYC-born K-pop band” would be dropping their new single, “LUV/WRONG,” on iTunes very soon. The boy band also announced that it would make its debut at the Columbia University MFA Thesis Show in NYC on April 26. Wait, what?

As it turns out, EXP is the product of a thesis project by a Columbia graduate student, Bora Kim, an interdisciplinary artist and sociologist from Seoul. Kim began the project, titled “I’m Making a Boy Band” (IMMABB), in October 2014 as an “ongoing collective experience, in-depth research, experimentation, filmmaking as well as business endeavor.”


The ideas had already been running through her mind since the success of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” back in 2012. Kim said she was interested in researching how K-pop had finally “made it” in the Western world.

“The Korean pop industry has always appropriated its concepts from the West, and also the West through Japan, until not, and the reverse was a shock for the Korean public,” Kim explains in an interview with Columbia University. “‘Idol Groups’ became national heroes and K-pop became part of a proud national identity. But there is a double standard at play here. … K-pop had been looked down upon until outsiders started to consume it and its related products as well.”

Kim found that K-pop exports were directly tied to an increase in profit for Korean IT products, such as mobile phones–in fact, she says the biggest beneficiaries of the Korean Wave are companies like Samsung and LG.

But why make a boy band?

“I was interested in K-pop and idol groups on this level initially as I was thinking about cultural flow, or the relationship of dominant culture and peripheral culture, and how that is interwoven with one’s identity or one’s national identity,” Kim says. “I wanted to see what would happen if I made American boys into K-pop performers, by teaching them how to sing in Korean and act like Korean boys, and complicate this flow/appropriation even more.”

“Complicating the flow” also meant exploring how masculinity is portrayed in boy groups.

“These boys are tailored to attract straight young females, originally,” Kim says. “but the presentation of their sexuality is very complicated. … For example, a young group of pretty boys with great skin start rapping in a hip-hop music video while wearing a lot of make-up. What does this mean? Who is the target audience? It is totally gender-bending and experimental, but, at the same time, it is very typical, mainstream K-pop.

“And the acceptance of this strangeness (in the eyes of Western audiences) started to happen when Korean economic prosperity reached a point where it was enough for the entertainment industry to produce high-quality pop culture products,” she adds. “Cultural barriers or mistranslation are overcome by the shiny framing/packaging of K-pop.”


Kim’s partners, Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao, each brought their own expertise and perspectives to the project. Kuroda’s studies focused primarily on art criticism, photography, sculpture and fashion, while Shao studied arts administration and cultural theory at Maastricht University, Netherlands.

“The ‘I’m Making a Boy Band’ project aims to examine critical aspects of pop/business culture through the lens of an artist,” explains Kuroda, who first befriended Kim at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “By asking oneself what it means to assimilate or twist the rudimentary formula in K-pop ‘idol’ culture, this project highlights social issues on a global and personal level.”

Shao and Kim discussed the differences between Asian pop culture–particularly Taiwanese and Korean–with American pop culture, as well as the connection between popular culture and fine arts.

“By changing the working process (of making ‘art’), we intend to re-think and re-define what it means to communicate with the art world and its audience,” Shao says. “Since the main characters of this work are people–not only band members, but also collaborators–we try to challenge ourselves by giving up authorship from time to time.”

Shao adds that she believes IMMABB focuses more on communicating with the audience throughout the process rather than the outcome of the band. The project “welcomes interactions, encourages questions and provokes confrontations.”

You can read more of Bora Kim’s interview with the Columbia University School of the Arts here. You can also follow EXP’s exploits at their Instagram, exp_theband.


All images via Columbia University School of the Arts


Korean Cultural Service New York Presents Jeju Island’s Sea Women

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

The Jeju Island “sea women,” or haenyeo, are perhaps one of the most unique examples of Korea’s indigenous cultural heritage. The title refers to female divers who dive for food in the sea—without any diving equipment or breathing apparatuses. The dives can last up to two minutes, and they can go up to 10 meters (over 30 feet) deep.

The Korean Cultural Service in New York has been holding an exhibition, titled Haenyeo after these women, since mid-March. With only a week left until it ends on April 10, it’s definitely something to check out.



The exhibition presents photos by Hyung S. Kim, who told The New Yorker that he traveled to Jeju Island several times between 2012 and 2014. He would set up a plain white backdrop near the shore and would ask divers to have their pictures taken right as they had emerged from the water—usually after five to six hours of work.

Kim’s work “expresses the joys and sorrows of the lives of haenyeo as well as their history” as he captures them in their natural states.




The history goes way back: The first record of haenyeo in literature was in 1105. In 2013, the Cultural Heritage Administartion of Korea applied to have the haenyeo registered by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The haenyeo culture has been gradually disappearing. In the 1960s, divers numbered above 20,000; now, there are approximately 2,500 divers who are still active. The vast majority of the remaining haenyeo are over 60 years old—the youngest is 38, and the oldest diver Kim photographed is over 90.

If you’re in New York and in need of something to do over this Easter weekend and break, be sure to check this out!

You can find more information at the Korean Cultural Services website.

Gallery Korea
460 Park Avenue 6th Floor
New York, NY 10022

Phone: (212) 759 9550
Email: info@koreaculture.org



Link Attack: Yeon-mi Park, Racist Frat Email, Tokyo Students Say “We’re Friends” with Koreans

The Woman Who Faces the Wrath of North Korea
Yeon-mi Park is a 21-year-old North Korean defector who has devoted herself to revealing the brutal truth about the country, but the regime is fighting hard to discredit her. (The Guardian)

University of Maryland Investigates Racist, Sexist Frat Email
Angry Asian Man highlights an email from a Kappa Sigma chapter that came to light just days after the racist video from Oklahoma University’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon blew up online.

Choi Sun

Choi Sun’s Paintings That Will Make You Cringe
Since graduating from the art college at Hongik University, the “rebel artist” has sought to disrupt accepted norms in painting, according to Korea Herald.

The Untapped Political Power of Asian Americans
Third Way‘s Michelle Diggles, Ph.D, explains how Asian American diversity and experiences are often overlooked and not well understood in national political debates. Asian Americans also lag in participation in civic life … so far.

With Plan to Walk Across DMZ, Women Aim for Peace in Korea
Last Wednesday at the United Nations in New York, using a conference on the status of women as a backdrop, leading female advocates of disarmament formally announced their intent to walk across the Demilitarized Zone. (New York Times)

“We’re Friends”; Tokyo High School Students Speak Korean and Touch on Korean Culture in Speech Competition

Talking Kimchi and Capitalism with a North Korean Businessman
The Washington Post talks to Mr. Kim, a factory manager in a small town outside Dandong, China’s commercial gateway to North Korea.

Ron Kim

Ron Kim Calls for Student Resolve in Face of Failures
The New York State Assemblyman spoke to the AHANA Management Academy (AMA) and the Korean Students Association at Boston College about his journey into politics as an Asian American man.

Hyphen Magazine Interviews Seoul Searching Writer and Director, Benson Lee
Lee talks about Asian cinema today, premiering the film at Sundance and preparations for the film. Check out KoreAm’s feature on Benson Lee and Seoul Searching here.

Elsa Hanbok

Artist Reimagines Western Fairy Tales with a Korean Twist

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Anna built a snowman and Elsa formed her ice castle in an unnamed Nordic country. But what if the story of Disney’s Frozen took place on the Korean peninsula?

Korean artist and illustrator Na Young Wu, who goes by the handle Obsidian (@obsidian00) on Twitter, recently unveiled a series of illustrations depicting Western fairy tales as if they had taken place in Korea. Elsa’s glittering dress, for example, would look more like a hanbok, like so:

Check out the rest of the artist’s Korean-Western fairy tales series below. You can click on the tweets to view each image separately.

The Frog PrinceThe Little Mermaid and Snow White:

Alice in WonderlandLittle Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast:

More Hans Christian Andersen: The Wild Swans and The Snow Queen with Chinese and Japanese influences, respectively.

You can view more of the artist’s work on her Naver blog. Follow her on Twitter (@00obsidian00).

Source: Rocket News


Korean American Artists Explore Their Native Culture in ‘Interlaced’

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

They take pride in their culture, but will their culture take pride in them?

That’s the question three Bay Area-based Korean American artists are posing as they prepare to embark on a journey to South Korea, according to their Kickstarter campaign, which has one week left to go. The proceeds will go towards a short documentary, which will record their journey.

“We feel a mixture of sentiment and passion for our native country that is difficult to explain,” the trio writes. “What will be the reception of our art in contemporary Korea? How has the country changed in our generation, and how has America changed us?”

The three artists met at Mills College in Oakland, where they all received their respective graduate degrees and bonded over being the only Korean American grad students in the arts programs. Dave Young Kim is a painter and muralist from Los Angeles, who is involved in community engagement and is also a descendant of the celebrated, female independence activist, Yu Gwansun. Julie Moon is a concert-level pianist from Korea, and Tim Kim, a Tennessee native, is a concert-level violinist and vocalist. The two musicians have collaborated together as a classical, improvisational music group called KABAM. Their music is influenced by Korean tradition.


In Korea, the group will be looking to book venues to play, find murals to paint and hold art exhibitions as they explore the streets of Seoul. “It’s a two-way exploration of both soaking in and mixing with the complexities of our roots,” the artists write. “We have our views, our fascinations, our misgivings and our creativity.”

The trio plans to also visit their families, tour gravesites and attempt to hear stories they’ve never heard before to rediscover their heritage.

You can learn more about Interlaced on Facebook and its Kickstarter page.

Ho Yoon Shin 8

Ho Yoon Shin Creates “Empty” Sculptures Out of Paper

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

In this age of new media, we are surrounded by so many phenomena that all vie for our attention. Korean artist Ho Yoon Shin’s beautiful handcrafted paper sculptures embody a wide range of influences, including religion, politics and social surroundings in South Korea. However, Shin’s work literally shows a different angle to these phenomena: They are empty.

“I am interested in social phenomena and approached the essence of it,” Shin says in his profile on LWH Gallery. “I realized that the closer I approached it I realized there is no essence. I think it is already intrinsic in me or you, being judged and evaluated by the inherent values in our things.

“Therefore, if examined in that viewpoint, I begin to understand why the power group of Korea has wanted to split all kinds of social systems — the right and the left, social classes divided on its economic structure, dominance and subordination, etc.”

Ho Yoon Shin 13

Ho Yoon Shin 7

Ho Yoon Shin 5

Shin’s work also includes strong Buddhist influences. The simplicity of his subject’s faces are inspired by Buddhist art, which he finds calming and meditative, while the Buddhist philosophies of void and emptiness are also embodied in the sculptures.

“Looking at a solid body made up through several layers…, we get to know that the system of the body is organized rather dangerously than strangely, and the system looks like the contemporary society,” Shin says. “And its vacant surface and inside are getting filled with our inherent images to completion. In the end, it’s a story about the situation and a point where we fill a surface that doesn’t exist … and console and satisfy ourselves.”

Ho Yoon Shin 9

Ho Yoon Shin 10

Ho Yoon Shin 1

Ho Yoon Shin 4

Ho Yoon Shin 2

Photos courtesy of Rocket News and Beautiful Decay


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.

Girl Princes 2
The Girl Princes (Photo courtesy of Indie Plus)

Girl Princes 3

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.”