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A New Family : Curating Korean Diaspora

Group Exhibition

Gallery Korea at the Korean Cultural Center New York 

 May 24 - July 14, 2023

How has Korean diaspora emerged and developed? How has it engaged with its native country, Korea? 

It has been over 140 years since the Korean Peninsula, whose world had long revolved around China, appeared in the Western international community with the signing of the Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce and Navigation between Joseon and the United States in 1882. A migrant procession which left the Korean Peninsula and moved to China and Russia at the end of the Joseon Dynasty, evolved to immigration to Hawaii with the help of missionaries who came to Joseon after the Treaty. 

The Korean Empire, went out of existence, annexed by Japan. Without a homeland to rely upon, Korean immigrants worked hard on education and missionary work to become enlightened, competent people in preparation for the future, and campaigned for the independence of Korea. Hawaii and the Americas were spaces of freedom and vision where they prepared for a “modern” Korea. 

After liberation, Koreans again scattered around the world in the dynamic, often painful, process of the founding of the two Koreas and the Korean War which resulted in displaced families and orphans, but also in the process of modernization and industrialization that followed.

With more than 7.3 million Korean diaspora living overseas, we ask the question: Is Korean identity something that is fixed, tied closely to the physical location of the Korean peninsula, bloodline, and the nation?

A New Family aims to reflect upon the history of Korea and Koreans and how it has been reflected in art, and to reinterpret the Korean diaspora from a new perspective that embraces the existence and history of all Korean diaspora, whether caused by the division of Korea, thrown into a foreign world inside Korea, or dispersed around the world from Korea. 

This exhibition, with Choi Jae-won as special guest curator, challenges us to see, encounter, and interact with the Korean diaspora inside and outside of the country, who we might have abandoned and turned away from, but could be new Koreans and a source of influence that we should recognize more rightly and network with in earnest.

In an era of hybrid identities crossing geographies and nations, the exhibition suggests that we do not call them 'Korean diaspora' in the conventional sense, but we meet and engage with them as “A New Family,” new Koreans, transcending geography, blood and nationalism.

<Featured Artists> 

Choi Sang-ah, Choi Young-rim, Davy Chou, Hong Jong-myoung, Hwang Yoo-yup, Ju Jeong-i, Jung Bo-young, Kim Ku-lim, Kim Won, Kim Young-joo, Kwon Ok-yon, Lee Hyun-seung, Lee Man-ik, Lee Sang-guk, Lee Seo-hyun, Lim Choong-sup, Paik Nam-June, Park Hang-sup, Park Keun-ho Peter, Park Ko-suk, Park Seoung-seo, Park Yoo-ah, Sen Chung, Sohn Hae-won, Yang Dal-suk, You Hyeon-kyeong

<About the Curator> 

Guest Curator Choi Jae-won specialized in Audiovisual Media at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KMH: Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln) in Germany and worked in various capacities, including as Chief Curator at Art Center Nabi, Visiting Researcher at <MATTEREALITY>, a transdisciplinary research program at the Korea Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS), Lecturer teaching “Community Planning and Design” at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies at Seoul National University, and Head Researcher of the follow-up study of Curating International Diaspora at the Asia Culture Center in Korea. He is interested in multidisciplinary research and curating that encompass art, science, technology, and Korean traditional culture. He currently lives and works in Washington, D.C. as an independent curator.


while arranging in 4x4

Sang-ah Choi


these works were linked at the beginning and the end.

 each was made not once the previous was complete but several were birthed simultaneously as they grew 

works were moved in different directions, rearranged and reconnected, many were always in play at once.

the eye and the body at the intersection of sight and touch, these works grew in their dialogue.

for these works I did not particularly start with a purpose or intent. 

instead I tried to be present, in each moment I saw, I felt

I reacted to images, actions that came naturally my vision grew and my hands followed 

and the piece gradually came into being.

 a piece of paper is a place and a surface, transcending the spatial, physical limitations it presents,

the invisible can be made visible.

flowing paints, smudged graphite, folding, tearing, cutting, 

how the paper reveals what was previously unseen

how it transforms into something entirely different

in continued slowness, or in bursts of speed, it is simultaneously constant and moving toward a new state…

 the eyes ceaselessly dart around and at times suddenly halt,

 the body is sometimes contained like liquid and at times more fluid than my gaze.

the painted blacks look like holes which build new spaces, create silences

or thicken the paper, giving it new weight and texture.

it is there…

the painted whites on paper seem to shine brighter than ever

they look the same and different from the cut holes, different and the same.

it is heading somewhere…

 the eyes and the body are not separate but akin, making the other exist.

 as black and white make the other visible… 

the body is not red, yellow, blue, a singular color but a mixture of paints leaving traces of pigments

it constantly moves and spreads its warmth.  it contains and it disperses.

like when I take a deep breath, the body fully expands making me feel as if I’m floating within…

the acts of seeing, touching the paper, drawing, rubbing, or cutting

lead to intertwined movements.

when these actions, no matter their form, advance in the same direction,

they grow more connected and at times

a new element interrupts and changes their direction pausing the work before it heads off again.

but even those which seem different can meet again and become interlaced anew.

the 4x4 arrangement brought new perspectives to these works 

multi-dimensional, relative associations were nurtured. 

visual magic square.

I aimed to follow a visual narrative, then break that narrative,

with symmetry, asymmetry, repetition, progression, juxtaposition, randomness… 

from one line, to two, three, four lines

and many more…

 some works, with eight neighbors, form a group rather than a line.

to look at them is to endlessly attempt to create relationships between them,

and at times to flip such associations, and to uncover differences while seeking similarities.

the sudoku and magic square form was inspired and each work came together when this 4x4 format was assigned. 

surpassing each work’s individual narrative an unseen element begged to be seen through this arrangement.

perhaps that element is not something to be found

but the mind’s endless pursuit of discovery beyond what was seen before.


*English translation edited by Jungin Angie Lee

4x4 그림들을 배열하면서



각각의 그림들은 서로 시작과 끝이 연결되어 있다. 

하나씩 완성하고 다음으로 넘어간 것이 아니라 자라나면서 한꺼번에 여러개가 시작되기도 하고 

작업 하는 중간에 다른것이 연결되기도 해서 한꺼번에 항상 여러개가 같이 진행되었다.  

모두 눈과 몸, 보는것과 물리적 관계를 맺는 행위의 주고 받음으로 자라났다.

사실 작업을 하는 과정에서는 특별히 어떤 의도를 갖고 하지 않았지만

그 순간에 있으려하고, 순간에 보이거나 느끼는 것들 

거기서 시작된 이미지나 행위에 반응하여 생각과 행위가 자라나면서 그림이 서서히 드러났다. 

종이 한장이라는 장소, 혹은 표면이 주는, 공간적, 물리적 한계를 넘어

보이지 않는 것을 보이게 하거나,

흐르는 물감이나, 문질러진 흑연, 접기, 찢기, 자르기 등으로 

종이가 어떻게 보이지 않는 것을 보이게 하는지

혹은 물리적으로 아주 다른것이 되어버리기도 하는지 

계속 천천히, 혹은 빠르게, 머무르다가도 조금씩 새로운 곳으로 움직인다…

눈은 끊임없이 움직이다가도 멈춰선것처럼 보이기도 하고,

몸은 액체처럼 담겨져 있다가 시선보다 더 유연하게 흘러다니기도 한다. 

검정으로 칠해진 부분은 구멍처럼 보이며 다른 공간을 만들어 주기도 하지만

아무것도 없는 적막처럼 들리기도 하고,

종이를 두껍게 만들어주며 다른 촉감과 무게로 낯설게 느껴지기도 한다.

거기에 있다…

흰색으로 칠해진 부분은 종이위에서 어떤것보다도 밝은 빛을 받고 있는 것처럼 보이고

잘라진 구멍은 칠해진 흰색과 같아 보이지만 다르다.  그리고 다르지만 같기도 하다. 

어디론가 가고 있다…

눈과 몸은 각각이 아니라 서로 관계를 맺고 서로를 존재하게 한다. 

검정과 흰색이 서로를 보이게 하는것처럼…

몸은 빨강, 노랑, 파랑, 각각의 색이 아니라 물감들의 혼합으로 안료의 흔적을 남기며 

계속 움직이며 온기를 전한다.  담고 있기도 하고, 늘어나기도 한다.  

숨을 길게 쉴때, 몸이 한없이 늘어나고 내가 그속을 부유하는것처럼 느껴지는 것처럼…

보는 행위와 종이를 만지면서 그리거나, 문지르거나 자르는 행위들은

서로 관계를 맺으며 움직이게 한다.  

이 관계가 어떤 형태로든 한방향으로 갈때, 계속 연상이 되고 자라다가 어느 순간 

다른 요소가 들어와 방향을 바꾸기도 하고 그곳에서 잠시 머무르다 다른곳으로 가기도 한다.  

하지만 서로 달라보이는 것들도 다시 만나며 서로 다시 관계를 맺는다.  

여기 이 4x4 구조는 내가 생각하지 못했던 그림들 사이의 입체적 상대적 관계형성을 드러내준다.  

시각적 마방진. 

어떤 질서를 부여하려고 했고, 어느 순간엔 그 질서를 흐트러뜨리는 

대칭과 비대칭, 반복, 점진, 대비, 나열…

하나의 선에서 두개, 세개, 네개의 선들

그리고 더 많은 선들…

그리고 어떤 그림은 여덟개의 이웃을 가지면서, 선이 아니라 자기만의 집합을 만들어 가기도 한다.  

무엇인가를 보는 것은 끊임없이 관계를 만들기도 하고, 그 관계를 전복시키기도 하고,

유사한것을 찾다가 다른 무엇을 보게 되기도 한다.

내가 스도쿠나 마방진을 생각하게 된것도 이 각각의 그림들이 같이 모여진, 이 구조를 가진 순간

내가 각각의 그림을 보는 것을 넘어, 보이지 않던 어떤것들을 볼수 있는 배열을 찾으러 했던것 같다. 

그것은 ‘무엇’이 아니라 ‘그곳에 머무르며 끊임없이 새로운 것을 보려하는 마음’ 아닐까?

Photo by Stephen Funk
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