The Museum of Vancouver and the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Vancouver have joined forces to showcase artwork by three Korean-Canadian artists living and working in Vancouver. The exhibition artfully blends traditional and contemporary concepts as a means of contemplating place, history, migration and identity.
In/Flux: Art of Korean Diaspora will be on display from now until January 6 at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV). The show combines traditional Korean ceramics and calligraphy by two Korean Masters, Junghong Kim and Jin Hwa Kim, alongside contemporary photography by artist Jin-me Yoon.
This is the first time in Yoon’s 30-year career as an artist that she has participated in a show that combines her work specifically with traditional Korean art forms.
“It’s an honour for me to show with elders. I feel there is mutual respect. Often I think traditional practitioners will look at contemporary art and say that’s fleeting or subject to fashion, and then sometimes contemporary artists will be very dismissive of traditional forms. I am not interested in those simplistic formulations. I think there is something wonderful when you put these cultures and forms next to each other,” she says.
The way the exhibition interacts with the other shows at MOV has also influenced Yoon’s decisions.
“I wanted to work with the curator to see the flow. [MOV’s other shows] contextualize my work more explicitly as I am always questioning ‘where have I come to?’ in terms of thinking about Canada’s past and the relation to Indigenous peoples and traditional unceded territories,” she says. “My project has always been, ‘what are the very terms of inclusion and how do we understand our place here?’”
When asked about the importance of cultural identity in her work, Yoon explains that she has a deep abiding connection with Korea even though she came to Canada as a child.
“But I’ve never been interested in exploring that cultural identity as if I wanted to explain it to the mainstream. I am not interested in politics, I am interested in shared ways to help me understand place and also our responsibilities towards land and nature. There is a contemplative aspect, especially around the cyclical nature of life and death. I think you can feel that in the exhibition,” she says.
MOV curator Jillian Povarchook agrees that the space is contemplative.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome. I feel like this is a little bit of a departure for MOV – just because it is art based. It feels a little bit different from the rest of the galleries. It is a very contemplative space and allows you to digest what you’ve seen, engage with the story that is presented and then move on to other stories about Vancouver,” says Povarchook.
The diasporic experience
Povarchook also echoes Yoon’s thoughts on the importance of cultural identity to the show.
“It is important but it is not the end all and be all. It has provided these three artists with the traditions to draw upon. Wherever you come from, whoever you are, the idea is using tradition to find your way and using art to express it. We think of immigration as a collective wave of people coming in, but the diasporic experience is deeply individual and that is important to remember – not to think of people as a group but to think of them as many individuals,” she says.
When asked about the show’s title Povarchook explains that the exhibition touches on cultural ethnicity and those things aren’t fixed.
“You can be Korean and keep your Korean identity but you can also be Canadian. You can be many different things,” she says.
For Povarchook, working with the artists was a beautiful experience.
“They were all so generous with their time, knowledge and spirit and we’re so excited to be involved. I am just so grateful that we were able to tell their stories and showcase their work. There are 80,000 Koreans living in British Columbia, mostly in the Greater Vancouver area, so we were happy to tell the story of a sizeable population,” she says.
For more information, please visit www.museumofvancouver.ca.