‘Space for Shadows’: quest for identity
Han Diaspora expresses life experiences through art performance
By Cho Yoon-jung
THE KOREA HERALD, FRIDAY. DEC. 20, 1996, Culture p.7
While the word diaspora is usually used in reference to the Jewish people, there are many other races whose people see scattered all over the world and this is certainly the case for Koreans.
Through circumstances that may or may not have been of their own choosing and the path fatten by the modern history of the nation, there exists a large population of young Koreans who grew up outside the country.
Whether child re foreign countries or the children of immigrants, there are stories to be told about their experiences, stories which revolve around the gnat for identity.
Forming a group called Han Diaspora this September, Korean American Sohn Heejoo not about finding a may to tell these stories through art. The result is a mixed media art performance titled “Space for Shadows.” It will take place Dec. 22 at Kyongdong Church in Chongchung-dong bringing together four young artists and performers. Cho Mihee and Leah Sieck are overseas adoptees.
Cho was adopted to Beligum in 1969. Several years ago she returned to Korea
in search of her birth mother. Now a painter and filmmaker who helps other adoptees search for their biological parents, her performance will consist of an SBS documentary about her life and presentation of six pantings.
All of Cho’s art deals with adoption in some way. Back in 1991 Cho found her mother and painted “Floating Portrait,” which shows a sense of rediscovery of self. But in 1992, she painted “Et toi, d’où es-tu ? (And you, where do you come from ?) which expresses the confusion of identity that came when reminded by this question that she was not considered to belong to either Belgium or Korea, the places she had called home.
Sieck who is original name is Kim Eun-sook, was sent to live with a family in the United States when she was only 3 month old. Recently returning to Korea, she now teaches English at the Seoul National University’s language center. By telling about her life with her adoptive family through poetry, dance and music and her short experience of living in Korea she indicates recognition of her ‘fluid identity,’ But in also communicating the unfairness of being criticized for her not speaking Korean, she points underlying problems here by questioning why she had to be adopted overseas.
The third performer Kim Myung-boon did not grow-up outside Korea herself . She is an employee of Dooraebang, a center for women who work in and around the military bases of Tongduchon. In a slide and poetry presentation Kim shows how through her contact with children of mixed race she has realized that they do not have to be sent out of the country to be living outside it. She cries for the children as a witness to the outcaste lives they lead.
Wrapping up the show will be Eriko Ikehara who was adopted to the United States when she was 13. Her mother is Japanese and her father a black military serviceman based in Okinawa. lkehara defines herself as “bi-cultural, bi-racial, and bi-lingual first generation black Okinawan” and a ‘mixed media performance artist. She will be presenting an autobiographical piece employing dance, poetry, music and film called “trilogy.”
To put the separate performances in contact, Prof Shin Yoon-whan will be present a general history of the dispersion of Koreans to other countries. Sohn from Han Diaspora hope the event will prod people to start thinking about the various issues presented in the performances. ‘It is not asking for sympathy, just a voice to tell a story,” she said.
Pointing out that the one thing all Korean scattered around the world have in common is the homeland, she explained that for herself and others like her, returning to the homeland is a way to understand the context of their identity.
Given that is is not easy to understand something that is not part of personal experience and art is not the simplest form of communication, a performance such as ‘Space for shadows” is fitting forum for the four performers involved. ‘Through art there is healing,” Sohn said.
That healing is necessary is suggested in the title ‘Space for shadows.” The four performers all word it differently — fluid identity, in-betweenness, outcaste, no man’s land — but all see to acknowledge a fate of living in a sphere of their own.