Seoul Tribune – 2006

Adoptee art speaks of motherland

(by Lee Chae-eun, Seoul Tribune, 08.08.2006)

Overseas Korean adoptee artists have returned to their roots to discuss Korea, their mother country by birth, but at the same time the country that abandoned them.

The exhibition, “Our Adoptee, Our Alien” at the Dongsanbang Gallery and the Keumsan Gallery has on display about 40 works by 11 artists. In addition to the paintings, drawings, photography, film and documentaries by adoptees, there is an open participation program titled “Draw Your Mind,” featuring personal messages posted to their native country by some 150 overseas adoptees.

Hanna Alvgren (Korean name Choi Ha-young), who was adopted to Sweden, produced a photo-series with her biological family as models and a personal video project during her first visit to Korea in spring of 2003.

In her collection “Home Streets,” she recollects, “Returning to my birthplace as an adult, I was hit by the feeling that I had always been living two parallel lives and a part of me had always remained there. The smells, the sounds, the view from the Mokpo harbor were all familiar to me. I had just been woken from a very long dream.”

The artists hope the visual images will speak for themselves as a means of communication with people in Korea to better understand each other across national borders and cultural barriers.

An open discussion on the theme “Art and Activism – How is Identity Expressed in Korean Adoptees’ Artworks” was held yesterday at Kyung Hee University’s Institute of International Education,

The inevitable yet disturbing issues surrounding adoption, such as adoptees’ identity crisis, can be seen through the lens of the adoptees themselves.

“I Wish You a Beautiful Life,” a text message by Mihee-Nathalie Lemoine, is one critique of what Korea has not given to its overseas adoptees – a sense of identity. “Sending children abroad for the benefit of their ‘well being’ does not always result in their ‘success’ as adults,” said Lemoine as she looks back on the haunting memory of fellow adoptees who committed suicide.

Lemoine, who was adopted to Belgium, has been living in Korea for 10 years. Her face is already familiar to many people as she has appeared in TV documentaries, movies and books concerning adoption.

The artists try to tell stories that can touch everybody – “stories dealing with such universal themes as the search for identity, the yearning to belong, duality of human nature, social injustice” as Joy Dietrich puts it.

A Korean-born American filmmaker, Dietrich’s autobiographically inspired first film “Surplus” was shown at numerous film festivals including the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival, the Los Angeles Short Film Festival, the Yale University Asian Film Festival, and Raindance in London.

The film deals with the devastating effects of poverty on the children of a Korean family where a daughter is abandoned by her father in what she painfully recollects as a game of hide-and-seek. Dietrich currently works for the New York Times as a research editor.

Ultimately, all the works in the show reflect the artists’ journey to find themselves. “I just wanted to know and understand myself better. What I realize now is that I do know myself better,” says Jennifer Ardnt, who was adopted by an American family. She made a documentary, too, starting off in hopes of untangling complex questions surrounding her adoption. In the documentary, “Crossing the Chasms,” she ends up meeting seven other adoptees who each share their experiences in search of their biological family.

The Overseas Adoptee Korean (OAK) Artists Exhibition 2004 is a non-profit program organized jointly by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Kyung Hee University, and Visual Art Camp, a non-profit culture and art group.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of international adoption from Korea About 430 ethnic Korean adoptees from 15 countries gathered in Seoul this past week to participate in a six-day Korean Adoptee gathering held at the Sofitel Ambassador Hotel Aug. 4-8.

More than 200,000 Koreans have been adopted in the United States and Europe. Around 2,200 babies annually continue to be adopted overseas.

The exhibition runs through Aug. 14. The Galleries are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dongsanbang Gallery is about 10 minutes from Jonggak Station, Subway Line No. 1, Exit 3. To get to Keumsan Gallery take Subway Line No.3 to either Gyeongbok Palace Station or Anguk Station.

(congcong82@heraldm.com)

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