70 Years of Overseas Adoption, Adoptees Returning with Artworks (Sisa-in, 2023.04.28)

기자명임지영 기자 다른기사 보기  – 입력 2023.04.28 06:39 – 814호

SISA-IN Weekly Magazine – Writer: IM JiYoung – ⓒ시사IN 신선영 (Photographs SHIN SeonYoung)

70 Years of Overseas Adoption, Adopted People Returning with Artworks

In 1953, the Korean War brought about an unprecedented wave of international adoptions, with an estimated 200,000 Korean children sent overseas to be adopted. As we celebrate 70 years of overseas adoption, some adopted Koreans are now returning with their own stories to tell through their artworks.

The “Homecoming” exhibit at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul features works by 20 Korean adoptees from the United States, Europe and Australia who returned to their homeland to explore their roots. The exhibit includes paintings, photographs, video installations, and sculptures that explore themes of identity, belonging, and displacement.

One of the artists featured in the exhibit is Rosalie Fiedler, who was adopted by an American family in 1972. Fiedler’s sculpture, “Still Here,” features a cast of her face surrounded by barbed wire, symbolizing the feelings of entrapment and isolation she has experienced throughout her life as a Korean adoptee.

Another artist, Min Sook Lee, was adopted by a Canadian family in 1975. Lee’s photographs and video installations explore Korea’s conflicted relationship with its own history, including its treatment of adoptees and the legacy of the Korean War.

The “Homecoming” exhibit is a powerful reminder of the enduring impact of international adoption on the lives of millions of people, and the complex and difficult questions of identity and belonging that it raises. As we mark 70 years of overseas adoption, it is important that we continue to listen to and learn from the stories of those who have lived it firsthand.

On the 70th anniversary of international adoption, an exhibition of works by 30 overseas adoptee artists was held with the theme was ‘Motherland’.

I met kimura byol lemoine, Kim Eun-ae, and Jemma Irving, who was visiting her country for the first time.

This is a story that began two years ago, when the pandemic was still in full swing, in a ‘video conversation’. Photographer Park Chan-ho has documented Korea’s unique ritual culture through photography. In 2018, he was introduced in the New York Times under the title, ‘Capturing the Fear of Death and the Rituals Surrounding Death in Photography,’ a rare Korean photographer. Afterwards, a photo essay collection <Ear-RETURN> was published in the United States. While chatting with a reader online, a gray-haired man asked a question. “I don’t know how to speak Korean and I don’t know Korean culture. But can I say that I am Korean?”

I held a ‘candlelight event’ to pray for them and gave them a Korean name. One day, an overseas adoptee living in Belgium told me that he was saving money to go to Korea. He said he was planning to hold an exhibition. The heart of the person who was hurt was read in the picture of the tearful girl. It was expensive for individuals to hold exhibitions. I decided to open a small exhibition. I asked if there might be one or two more participating artists. Thirty overseas adoptees working in art, photography, and video raised their hands. “The mouth was straight.” Writer Park Chan-ho recalled that moment. The edition of the ‘KADU Daedong Arts Festival’, hosted by the ‘Culture and Arts Association with Overseas Adoptees (KADU)’, of which he is the representative, has grown so much.

The works of about 30 overseas adoptees from 13 countries were exhibited at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul from April 9 to 12. The theme is ‘Motherland’. The exhibition runs from April 19 to May 2 at the Maru Art Center in Insa-dong, Seoul. An international adoptees forum will be held under the theme of ‘70 years of international adoption, rethinking international adoption’, and a traditional art performance, Daedonggut, will be held. Writer Park Chan-ho said, “Even now, about 300 people are being adopted overseas every year. It means that it is not about eating and not being able to wear clothes. I hope you will listen to the voices of overseas adoptees through your work and take an interest in the ongoing work.”

Korea, ‘the world’s largest exporter of children’

At the age of 25, I visited Korea again. I was to create a Korean branch of the affiliated organization. I wanted to understand Korea, which sent so many children abroad, and understand the society in which the mother who failed to defend her rights as a mother and citizen belonged. At first, it was believed that international adoption could be stopped. One day I realized I was acting like a “white savior.” I learned and understood Korean ways of thinking and customs from activists in Korean society. The length of stay was extended to 13 years.

In the 1990s, films such as Susan Brink’s Arirang and The Berlin Report, based on true stories, depicted abuse in adoptive families, but did not influence adoption practices. Things such as nationality and identity issues of overseas adoptees and difficulties in finding their biological parents have been known little by little. Ze spoke and acted as an activist. Ze worked hard to make the F4 visa, which was only given to Koreans, be available to adoptees, and suggested using the word “adoptee” instead of “adopted child.”

On the day of the opening ceremony at the National Assembly, Kimura Byol stood in front of zer work. These are photos taken holding a piece of paper with the number #6261 written on it in various places. It started at an orphanage in Korea, followed by a temporary shelter at Holt Children’s Services, a Belgian adoption agency, and a first home in Belgium. It took 10 years to complete. The journey to find the ‘root’ was not simple. 6261 is his adoption number. Ze was born between a Korean and a Japanese and was adopted by a Belgian couple in 1969.

That year, an area in Brussels, Belgium, famous for Japanese cherry trees, was overflowing with Korean children. In zer words, “the white savior consciousness also served as Christian guilt for their wealth”. As a kind of fad, advertisements appeared in magazines as well. Zer parents failed domestic adoption and met zer. Compared to those from Southeast Asia, Koreans had an image of fairer skin, calmness, and obedience. In general, the Japanese were preferred, but Koreans had the advantage that they were ‘similar’ to the Japanese, but relatively ‘cheap’, and the work of the mediation agency was done ‘quickly’.

It has been 70 years since overseas adoption began. International adoption, which began in the 1950s by connecting war orphans and mixed-race children with overseas adoptive parents, peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. Korea was the world’s largest exporter of children. About 200,000 people were adopted, and adoption agencies collected fees. Among the children who went to Europe in the early days, there was Byol Kimura. Growing up among white people, I was ashamed of my Korean or Asian identity. They had an image of ‘sex commodification’ and were treated as subservient beings. Unable to bond with his adoptive parents, he became independent in his teens. While attending art school, I rather discovered ‘Asianness’. The hatred of the past was put into the expressionist style.

In the summer of 1988, at the age of 20, he made a short film Adoption. It is a work that contains prejudice and prejudice against Asia with the theme of overseas adoption. The following year, ze was invited by the Korean government. It was a home country visit event created for successful overseas adoptees. Returning to Belgium, I felt that I had been taken advantage of. In 1991, when ze visited Korea again, ze met zer birth family. I was confident in my identity, and I was able to move forward with that meeting. After returning to Belgium, he created the Euro-Korean League (E-KL), a group of Korean adoptees.

Ze also helped 900 adoptees find their roots. It was important to know how you came into this world. Ze also suffered for a long time because ze did not know zer birthday and name. It was only later that I met the name Byol, which was given to me by zer birth mother. I met adoptees, adoption agencies, adoptive parents, biological parents, and social workers, and went to orphanages and city halls. Adoption agency staff were reluctant to disclose the records, saying they had been burned. Some birth parents had to pay a donation to get information about the child they put up for adoption. It acted as if the records of individual adoptees were the institution’s “property.”

Living in Canada, ze is (still) now an international adoption activist, artist, and archivist for 30 years. Zer identity as an adoptee influenced zer artistic activities when ze was young in zer 20s and 30s. Ze also held zer first exhibition, From the West to the East, in Korea.

In zer 40s, ze expanded zer themes to diaspora, forced migration, and postcolonialism. When I was discriminated against as a sexual minority in Korea, my interest shifted to the topic of gender and sexual orientation. Another work introduced in this exhibition reflects the experience of “Asian hatred” that many Asians faced during the pandemic.

Throughout the interview with zer, someone filmed the scene. Director Jeannolin, a second-generation adoptee. Her mother was adopted in France when she was four years old. Her mother’s interest in her homeland led her to this place. I am preparing a documentary about the issue of overseas adoption. It proves that the identity of parents affects the next generation.

kimura byol lemoine said, “The works in this exhibition reveal the emotional pain and trauma of overseas adoptees. Wouldn’t it help to prevent overseas adoption if we could understand the difficulties of adoptees through art?” As a middle-aged overseas adoptee, there are scenes I want to see before I die. The end of international adoption, if that is difficult, is ‘open adoption’ that prioritizes Asian families. It is fundamental to provide minimum information about birth and ensure accessibility.

During the interview, Byol Kimura greeted someone warmly. Kim Eun-ae (Dauphin Kim) was a painter. She is one of the participating artists in this exhibition. Among works where the scars and pains of adoption are directly felt, her paintings draw attention. This is because it reflects elements such as Korean landscape and traditional culture. Her business card also says ‘Artist inspired by Korea’. She visited Korea more than 10 times, and Korea was the source of her creativity.

Born in Busan on May 1, 1968, he was adopted by a Belgian family with two sons and a daughter. On August 14, 1970, when I arrived in a small village with a population of less than 10,000, I was with 30 children from Korea. A year after he came, another Korean girl was adopted as her sister. I received a strict upbringing at home, but I tend to appreciate it. She was particularly fond of her deceased adoptive father. I have a mother who lacked tolerance. She also asked others to stop spreading rumors about her mother, who said she was found on the street.

Working as an administrative assistant at a European agency in Brussels, she first visited Korea in 1997. I knew then that I was born in Busan. Kimura Byol, who was helping to find her birth family, also met at this time. After five years, she decided to find his family and came back to Korea. She appeared on TV and the two families claimed that she was her biological daughter, but the DNA did not match. Kimura Byol went to Busan City Hall for her and was able to find traces. After a month, I met my mother who lives in Incheon. It was after my father died.

An experience of embracing memories of Korea

When her mother had her as a young woman, her father already had three children and a family. She was told that his mother’s grandfather had decided to abandon her. According to her half-brother, it was an agreement made by her mother and father. “I’ll never know the truth, but I’m just grateful I found out,” she said. Her passion for painting, which began in 2006 after being fascinated by the natural scenery of southern Italy, matured while traveling back and forth to Korea. This is the third time I participated in the exhibition. She says that she really feels like she is at home when she is in Korea, and she wants to live and work in Korea someday.

Writer Kim Eun-ae paid attention to the fact that unmarried women face many difficulties when they give birth to a baby. In fact, the majority of overseas adoptees are children of unmarried women. “Even if you are unmarried or pregnant at a young age, an environment in which your family can support you must be created. The Korean government should also make efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies and a situation where the baby is abandoned. We need financial support for women who want to keep a baby.”

Among the spectators who visited the exhibition hall was Jemma Irving from Australia. It is the first time I came to Korea after being adopted 37 years ago. On the second day of my stay, I visited because there was an exhibition. Australia was not an environment where I could talk about Korea at all. I just tried to assimilate. The adoptive parents were also reluctant to speak. I grew up being told that I should be grateful for being adopted. When asked about Korea and the adoption process, the response was, “Why aren’t you thankful?”

Her five and seven-year-old children accompanied him on this trip. My children had a great influence on my decision to visit Korea. I wanted to tell you about Korea. Even so, the meaning of visiting this place was different. It is because it is the first experience of embracing memories of Korea as an adult. I haven’t mustered up the courage to find my real parents yet. She introduced that she had a Korean name even though she could not speak Korean. ‘Park Ye-hee.’ After seeing her write it down, she nodded, saying the letters were correct. This is the name on the birth certificate. It is unknown whether the name was given to her by her birth parents or the name given to her by an adoption agency.

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