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Capturing the identities of North Koreans resettled in South Korea through vivid, clothing-centered paintings.
Capturing the identities of North Koreans resettled in South Korea through vivid, clothing-centered paintings.
Capturing the identities of North Koreans resettled in South Korea through vivid, clothing-centered paintings.
54 backers pledged $4,165 to help bring this project to life.

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    • 한국어

Painting the Identities of North Korean Refugees

$4,165

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I recently did a painting that explored my self-identity through the context of clothing. As you can see, I juxtaposed the hanbok (Korean: 한복) - the Korean traditional dress for women - with the various nationalities that are significant to my identity. So I thought, “Why not expand upon this?” Clothing has been used to convey significant details about a painting’s subject since the beginning of humanity, but with my project, clothing would become the centerpiece and used as symbols for the identities of my North Korean friends.

Step-by-step process of an oil painting
Step-by-step process of an oil painting

 

The finished product! (36" x 52", oil on canvas)
The finished product! (36" x 52", oil on canvas)

North Koreans risk their lives in order to escape their home country to flee poverty, government surveillance, and gain something they’ve never had since birth - personal freedom. The challenges don’t end once they reach South Korea, however - they are thrust into a society that is one of the most fast-paced and technologically advanced in the world. The dialect and cultures are totally different and as a result many North Koreans feel isolated and experience discrimination. Resettled North Koreans experience quite a shift in their personal identities in trying to compromise their painful past and their chaotic present.    

I recently had the privilege of getting to know North Koreans who had escaped their home country. As we talked, one thing that struck me was that despite all of their hardships, they were still fiercely proud to be North Korean. They boasted about hometown foods and the pristine beauty of nature in North Korea, gossiped about family drama, and regaled me with memories of their childhood and adolescence. These are all subjects that you or I would talk about if asked to describe our lives. 

I also discovered the importance of clothing to North Koreans. They emphasized the significance of specific outfits for different occasions, jobs, and milestones. That makes total sense - clothing is an incredibly personal part of our lives because it's the most visible way we express ourselves. 

Much of what the world knows about North Korean art comes from the country’s proliferate propaganda art. Most North Korean art follows a very specific narrative about the government and its citizens and I want to show a different perspective that is much needed - art that shows North Koreans as individuals with their own stories.  

Typical North Korean propaganda (Source: yeowatzup)
Typical North Korean propaganda (Source: yeowatzup)

 

My project is unique - no one has yet attempted to portray North Koreans in this particular way. Exploring the merging of past North Korean and present South Korean identities through the lens of clothing will reveal some profound and insightful perspectives. I also believe it will be cathartic for the North Koreans I work with to see their journey embodied in visual form. Lastly,it will be illuminating to viewers who may not be familiar with the subject matter.

The Process  

I am planning to complete 5 large paintings in my 3 month period. I'm going to set up interviews with North Koreans who have been resettled near the Seoul metropolitan area for at least 1-2 years. I'll interview them about their lives in North Korea. From there, I'll transition into their new lives in South Korea - their biggest challenges, first impressions, dislikes, likes, and realizations about the people they are now. Then I'll ask them about comparisons, hindsight observations, etc. We'll make a list of clothing that has been significant to them throughout their life and discuss creative ways to portray this imagery. After the interview(s), I'll get painting! Depending on the strength of my working material, I'll have a check-in interview with the subject later.

Financials    

I need to commit to this project full-time in order to complete the 5 paintings in the 3 month timeline I've set for myself. As a backer, you will be funding my expenses during this project. This includes studio space rent, room and board, my flight, and most importantly, my art supplies! (Art supplies purchased will be mostly canvases as I have the majority of paints and brushes already.) Here's what that looks like in chart form:

$3,800 is the absolute minimum needed for this project. In order to make the goal more attainable, I have cut down on my food expense. Limited funds raised above $3,800 will go towards my food budget. 

If you have any questions about my financials, please don’t hesitate to contact me! 

About Me  

Who am I? I’m an artist now but I wasn’t always! My journey to art was winding and a long time coming. I always had the creative touch but was never encouraged to explore or develop it because for my family it was an unstable and uncertain road to go down . So after getting a degree in marketing, I tried my hand at all different types of jobs - fashion merchandising with luxury watches in San Francisco, teaching English in South Korea, working in a non-profit, etc. While I gained valuable experience from all of them, nothing stuck and I continued to wonder what I was meant to do in life.

The creative touch continued to bug me all that time. I came to the realization last year, that it was probably the last chance for me to really commit to what I felt I should be doing - art. If I didn't receive positive feedback, then at least I had tried and could move on with my life. So I came back home and got my AA in studio arts in one year with fantastic results.

This project is my first foray in combining my passion for heritage, human rights, and the human experience in visual form and I have high hopes for it. This is a unique perspective on a controversial topic and I am so excited for you to join me on this journey!

Thank you again for your support!

(To check out more of my art, go to my Instagram - link on my Kickstarter profile.) 

Me with the proud owner of my painting - Hi Heather!
Me with the proud owner of my painting - Hi Heather!

 

Risks and challenges

Oil painting is a methodical process, even with the paintings that seem to have paint thrown on them willy-nilly! Subsequently, I have to be very strict with my proposed timeline of 1 painting every 2.5 weeks with the inclusion of drying times. I'll work with the following system:

1. Interview the subject
2. Flesh out an underpainting
3. Start the body of the painting
4. Do a check-in interview with the subject
5. Power through until I finish.
6. Set painting aside to dry, repeat with the next.

Art supplies are expensive. Since many painting frames are ordered custom, I have no way of getting an accurate quote for the frame sizes I want until I go to Seoul and scout out a canvas maker who fits my needs. Costs of supplies may (or may not!) increase.

Subjects may also back out unexpectedly. In the chance that someone is no longer available, I plan on having alternative arrangements so that I can interview quickly with another person and move smoothly through the process with as little time wasted as possible.

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    FIVE 5x7 Prints

    1 print of each painting on 5x7 metallic paper

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    FIVE 8x12 Prints

    1 print of each painting on 8x12 metallic paper

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    ONE 12x18 Print + Reward #2

    ONE painting of your choice printed on 12x18 metallic paper and mounted on double weight matboard

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    ONE 18x30 Canvas Print + Reward #3

    ONE painting of your choice printed on canvas stretched on 1-1/2" deep stretcher bars

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Funding period

- (30 days)