Parachutes Hanboks & Sunset
Imagined Koren Updo Front with Dragon & Flower Tattoo
Imagined Korean Updo Side Profile with Flower Tattoo
I am fascinated with the literal manifestation of body politics, where hair is both canvas and context. I have explored this before: adapting braided pigtails from traditional Korean folk paintings, and using hair and body parts to exaggerate different acts. I want to challenge the stereotypes that surround how a woman should act, and challenge stereotypes of feminism. In my phantasmagoric drawings & collages, historical accounts, personal experiences, and contemporary political and social issues will weave together to create imaginary worlds.
In many cultures, hairstyles mark a person's age, sex, as well as social and religious status. This was - and still is, to some degree - the case in Korea and Japan, where my family originates. In these cultures, for women in particular, hair was imbued with conflicting symbolism: hair was associated with life force, growth, sexuality, and fertility; yet, could also signify wild or untamed energy. Hair was paradoxical: at once, beautiful and frightening, desirable and dangerous. In these cultures, the metaphorical power of hair was harnessed – as symbol of both social dominance and as a matter of dishonor. Intricate knotting or braiding would signify the wearer's privileged social position and marital status, whereas wild hair was a sign of impolitic sexuality. Such designation could relegate one to the periphery of acceptable/accepted society; yet, could also signify revolution - a voluntary withdrawal from social structures and controls.
Upon reflection on my new drawings thus far, I am struck by an overwhelming feeling of dissonance – not by the paradoxical symbology of hair – but by the dissonance I perceived in myself. In focusing not on the kisaeng themselves, but rather on their hair, have I not dehumanized the Korean woman? Have I not reduced her to her most inanimate self, yet imbued her with the responsibility of speaking for the whole of her sex? It seems preposterous, that in the course of earnest exploration, I engage in the very cultural objectification of women that I might hope to undermine.
It is in this spirit of prepostery and – dare I say it – whimsy, I create these drawings. Why not re-appropriate the misappropriation? Using the medium of pencil to at once capture the essence of idealized notions of precision and correctness as conveyed by the metaphor of hair and hairstyles, yet also to subtly reconfigure those notions.
In developing these layers for my drawings, I am extracting from imagery that seem divergent, yet are uniquely redolent of my upbringing: selfie photos (#KJSelfie), glamorous photos from modern-day Vogue Korea, Korean folk paintings, and old-style Korean television dramas. In doing so, I may be able to better connect with more than just the idea of my heritage. Rather, I might discover new ways to bridge the gap between history, fantasy, and reality.