Looking for identity through history

Jin-me Yoon, Souvenirs of the Self (Postcard Series), 1991, postcards, SFU Art Collection. Gift of the Artist, 2015. | Photo by Blaine Campbell Courtesy of SFU Galleries

Deconstructing Diaspora: Institute of Asian Art Inaugural Symposium will be taking place at the Vancouver Art Gallery May 18–19. As part of the Marking Place Speaker Series, artist Jin-me Yoon will be giving a talk traversing the 26 years of her practice, exploring ideas of diaspora, nationalism, migration and displacement.

Yoon is a visual arts professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU)’s School for the Contemporary Arts (SCA). As a child, she made many collages with catalogues and magazines but never thought she would become an artist. After receiving a Bachelor of Psychology from UBC, she went on to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University, and then a Masters of Fine Arts from Concordia University.

“Looking back, at the time it didn’t really make sense, but it was more of an intuition that it was a good way for me to make sense of the world,” says Yoon.

Yoon works with photograph and video as her mediums to express her ideas about the perception of self and others, and then re-thinking these relations along the lines of inclusion on a national and global scale.

“I think my work really traces my movement through ideas about place, history, the body and questions of identity in visual form,” says Yoon. “I see the main goal of art as being able to bring something into the world that we haven’t experienced yet. “

Dealing with a new identity

Jin-me Yoon, artist and Professor of Visual Art at the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU. | Photo courtesy of Jin-me Yoon

Immigrating to Vancouver from Korea with her family in 1968 had a huge impact on Yoon as a child. Yoon says that since Canada had already experienced a wave of immigration from China and Japan, and as a new immigrant, Yoon felt that she inadvertently inherited the East Asian history of Vancouver and had different identities imposed on her. Physically speaking, others perceived her culture as what her body emanated and at the time, she felt most people were largely unfamiliar with Korea as a country, so she was often mistaken as Chinese or Japanese.

“When I say cultural identity, I’m Korean, but I also had to become in a larger sense “Asian” once I came here,” says Yoon.

Other topics Yoon delves into are the perception of who is Canadian and who is not, and how we as a society still operate in terms of nationalism.

Making sense of history through art

Yoon is also interested in depicting Canada’s relationships throughout history with various parties. She references Canada’s history with the First Nations people, trade relations with the Europeans and the Chinese and global migration due to war, romantic relations and tourism. She strives to give a presence to all these things through her work. However, Yoon does not consider herself a political artist.

“I’m hoping that that I can share my views through my work as an artist, and art allows me to express the intensity of the way I feel about these things,” says Yoon.

Yoon’s artist talk will be lecture-style with a Q&A period at the end. She will be re-orienting ideas around diaspora, connections with Indigenous people and other communities both locally and globally. Also in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, she will be calling attention to our relationship to the nation and our future direction as a nation. Starting with one of her early works– her postcard project titled Souvenirs of the Self, created in Banff National Park – Yoon will guide the audience through her 26 years of practice as an artist and end with a discussion of her current work, Long View, created at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

For more information, please visit www.vanartgallery.bc.ca.