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Personal Project

Inherited

Artist statement

As an artist, my goal is to create experiences that explore the depths of human existence and provoke deeper questions. My work often explores the intersectional cultural inheritances and influences I carry as an immigrant who has chosen to leave my birth country and live in the U.S. Though I do not confine myself to a single medium or technique, my focus is on crafting visual and sensory pieces that evoke strong emotions and deep thinking moments. 

bio

When I was five, I told my parents I would be an artist. Determined to stay on track, I was wary of distractions, even though I found joy in writing poems, fiction, and reading books about archaeology and religion. To me, being an artist was akin to being a monk or priest, someone who sacrifices much in devotion to their craft. After school, I spent many hours learning drawing, printmaking, and watercolor painting from artists at a private art program until I went to college.


I received a BFA from Hongik University in Seoul and was invited to participate in multiple group shows for emerging artists at prominent galleries in Seoul, Tokyo, and several cities in China in the mid-nineties. Winning a prize in a national professional competition by the Korean Printmaker's Society fueled my ambition further, leading me to move to New York City, where many great modern artists lived. After earning an MFA in mixed media from Pratt Institute, I participated in several group exhibitions in New York City.


My artistic career took a hiatus when I transitioned to graphic and web design in 1999. The uncertainty of living as an artist without a stable income in NYC was daunting, and the rapid innovations in digital technology were too exciting to ignore. My curiosity about new experiences and desire to travel the world also influenced this career shift. Working as a digital product and web designer allowed me to explore various creative fields, though it took me away from creating art.


Now, in my fifties, I am rekindling my path as an artist, reconnecting with the core of who I am. Inspired by artists like Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell, I have always believed that art is a way of living. Like Philip Guston, I see art as a serious play that continuously evolves. And, like Felix Gonzales-Torres, I view art as incomplete without public interaction as an integral part of the work.

About the exhibition

I have crafted a collection of containers, most of which are designed to hold objects. These containers house small items or perishable goods that evoke memories of deceased individuals who left a unique impact on me. Among these are my grandparents, uncles and aunts, my spouse’s grandparents, beloved artists like Felix Gonzales Torres, my next-door neighbor Margaret, and people I have read about in books, obituaries, and articles. 

I chose ceramics as a medium because it has provided one of humanity’s earliest and most versatile means of containment since prehistoric times. Many containers feature a raised platform reminiscent of those used in the Korean Jesa ceremony.* In Korea and other Northeast Asian countries, Jesa has been performed for centuries to honor and remember deceased ancestors, typically as  far back as great-grandparents.


As a child, I believed the Jesa ceremony enticed my grandparents' spirits to return for loving conversations. The extended family would prepare delicious food and set up the Jesa on a tall cabinet resembling a mantelpiece. The offerings typically included fruits, fish, meat, rice wine, and incense. After the ceremony, we would enjoy eating the food prepared for our ancestors, who I felt were then with us.


Traditionally, only the first son in a family line can hold the Jesa ceremony. My father, not being the first son, has been unable to prepare the ceremony even though his eldest brother has passed away. Sadly, my uncle's wife is estranged from her husband's family, and their eldest son, who could have continued the tradition, also passed away, leaving a younger son who moved to Australia. This restriction causes much heartache for my father and me. So, a few years ago, I created my version of Jesa, expanding it to honor a broader range of deceased individuals, including non-relatives who have influenced me in various ways. 


For me, Jesa is a celebration of life and the wisdom inherited from those who have passed away. It is also a time to reflect on the meanings of life and death. My version of Jesa retains the ceremony's essence but discards the outdated formalities. This act mirrors the immigrant experience: we preserve what we value from our origins while embracing new elements from our adopted homes, creating a diaspora culture. As someone who left my birth country to build a new life, I am free to reinterpret traditions that may evolve with each generation.

Opening ceremony

Date & Time:

June 15th, Saturday, 4-5:30 pm (drinks and snacks provided)
 

Location:
Art Shack, 1127 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY


Want to Participate in the Jesa* Ceremony?:
Bring small objects or perishable items that connect you with deceased individuals who left you with meaningful memories. These can be relatives or anyone who has influenced you, even someone you read about in an article or obituary. It doesn’t have to be someone famous; it can be anyone who piqued your interest or left any kind of impression. We will place these objects in individual bowls or containers for the window display. If you wish to share a sentence or two about the person you want to commune with, note paper will be provided.

Post Ceremony

We will have food, wine, soju, and beer. Please bring a dessert or your preferred alcohol or drinks.

 

Time:
6-9 pm+

 

Location:

Ji-Leff residence


If you cannot attend the opening ceremony: The window display will be open from June 2nd to 27th, with removal on June 28th.

Original Inspiration

The inspiration for this exhibition began when my grandmother passed away. Initially, I did not cry upon hearing the news, despite our close bond. I was busy building my early life in NYC then, and my emotional closeness to her had waned. However, as time went on, I experienced waves of sadness and began to mourn her deeply.


I started mourning whenever objects reminded me of her, like a white ceramic bowl, shrimp pickles, or an abandoned chair on the street in a snowy winter. She was an extraordinary person to me. She was once a Mudang**, a Korean shaman practitioner who communicated with spirits and deities. Becoming a Mudang was her way of living authentically within a Confucian culture that restricted women's roles. Her charisma, creativity, wit, and curiosity found an outlet in shamanism, which offered her a rare freedom from societal and patriarchal constraints. She embraced her spiritual practice until her death, even as modernizing society and her own family viewed it with shame and backwardness.


I vividly remember her daily rituals, such as pouring clean water into a white bowl and praying in her garden. I recall her dancing with hourglass-shaped drums in beautiful traditional attire and sharing her encounters with a tiger in the mountains or a young Chinese soldier during the Korean War. She once asked me if I thought she was old, and I candidly replied that she was. She probably didn't like to see me behaving as a total self-centered college kid who only thought about myself and no one else. She smiled and said she still felt sixteen in her heart. I loved her, and she loved me more.

References

*Jesa: Korean Folk Museum
According to the Korean Folk Museum, "Jesa is a ceremony held to commemorate one's departed ancestors and to express one's gratitude to them. Therefore, the ceremony is performed with utmost sincerity, as if the departed ancestor was still alive, and is an occasion on which to be blessed by one's ancestor and to teach one's descendants filial affection and veneration."

** Mudang, Korean Shamanism: Wikipedia
Korean shamanism, also known as musok (Korean: 무속; Hanja: 巫俗) or Mu-ism (무교; 巫敎; Mu-gyo), is a religion from Korea. Scholars of religion classify it as a folk religion and sometimes regard it as one facet of a broader Korean vernacular religion distinct from Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. There is no central authority in control of musok, with much diversity of belief and practice evident among practitioners.

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01. still life

This work pays tribute to female artists of the 16th and 17th centuries who were often limited to painting still lifes. Unlike their male counterparts, many women artists of that era were not afforded the opportunity to depict grandiose epic stories from religion or history. Despite these constraints, artists like the Flemish painter Clara Peeters demonstrated enormous talent and asserted her identity as an artist.

Still life painting, often the starting point for artists learning to paint or draw, grants artists significant control over the selection and arrangement of objects to craft their own aesthetic narratives. Through metaphorical methods, artists can tell stories that reflect their perspectives and societal contexts. As a woman, I am deeply inspired by these female artists' still life paintings, which exude ambition and genius.

In arranging various objects with my ceramic pieces, I aimed to reflect traditional still life elements such as fruits, fish, fabrics, reflective objects, and a variety of shapes, colors, and textures—elements that artists strive to master. Through this work, I am reenacting and honoring the experiences of these pioneering still life artists.

02. submerged village

When my dad was a young adult, the government, then under a dictatorship, decided to create a reservoir by destroying his neighborhood. This traumatic experience left him feeling uprooted and powerless. He remembers every neighbor's name and can still pinpoint where their houses once stood. When he showed me his drawing of the old neighborhood, I began to understand why the adults around me growing up seemed unsettled or traumatized at times, as if they had buried their emotions deep within. Yet, the sadness would occasionally surface.
I recall being in a small boat with my dad on that reservoir as a kid, but it wasn't until recently that I learned what had happened there.

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03. grandma's garden

My grandmother was always so proud of her plants. Whenever I visited her as an adult, she eagerly showed them off to me, waiting to hear my responses. On another occasion, she proudly displayed baskets she had learned to make at a senior center. She was in her late eighties, and I was often too busy to give her more time to engage. I wish I had expressed to her more often how much I loved what she did. Instead, I responded with obligatory politeness and moved on to my activities, whatever they were.

04. what did you forget?

A week after my aunt (my dad's cousin) passed away from cancer, I had a dream of her coming to my house and opening all the drawers and containers in search of something. I remember her vividly, adorned in beautiful scarves and sunglasses reminiscent of 70s style. Despite many hardships, including losing her mother as a child, she was always fashionable and exuded a fun, vibrant energy.

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05. fuzzy bunny drinking soju

Right after college, I found out that one of my friends died in his sleep after heavily drinking soju with friends. He suffocated on his vomit and no one was there to help him. He was a few years older than me and always treated me like a little sister. I remember his gentle smile and soft demeanor, which made me and our friends feel safe and cozy whenever we hung out with him.

06. ceremony plate

I created raised plates and bowls for anyone who wants to participate in Jesa. The ceremony is complete when participants place an object that reminds them of a deceased loved one in a container. Inspired by the short-lived Felix Gonzalez-Torres, I am deeply drawn to make art that engages with viewers, and feel compelled to pursue this idea in my work.

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