Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How artist Kim Kyoungae poured her heart and memories into her new solo show

Kim Kyoungae was born and raised in South Korea. She's lived in Vadodara for the past 16 years where she creates her gorgeous, often foreboding, intense, surreal paintings. She's done six solo exhibitions since 2000.

A while ago, after a gap of five long years, Kim went back home with her daughter. She re-entered her past and relived her old memories. She noted the changes and made some new ones. Along the way, something eventful happened. She watched a documentary on the young Korean women taken as sex slaves to serve the Japanese Army during World War II.

Like many whose lives are touched by this issue Kim was consumed by sorrow. When she finally was able to make sense of it, she put together her thoughts in a collection of paintings. Those paintings are part of her seventh solo show Resonance which opens at the Hacienda Gallery in Mumbai on January 21.

I invited Kim to stop by the Drift and tell us about herself and her work. Kim, you did your B. FA in Oriental Arts in South Korea. You then came to Vadodara and did a Masters in Museology. Now you are a career artist. How did this long journey happen?

Kim: I chose to come to Baroda because initially I used to prepare documents for Santiniketan. I found that the environment there was what I wanted. But I felt I wanted to search for another institution. Baroda is very active and very dynamic. So it was nice.

When I studied Museology my interest was in the conservation and preservation of Indian paintings. I knew about these before coming to India and I was very fascinated. I also studied Chinese and Korean paintings when I studied Oriental Arts. There were a lot of similarities between the two.

I came to realize that the aesthetics of what I knew and what I could see were very different here. So I took the decision not to take any academic training in Art. So there is less influence of academics on my work. Because I chose an indirect learning process, I could articulate my artistic message my own way. Did you set out to be an artist or did that just happen?

Kim: Ha ha! I never thought I could be an artist. When I was in in the 10th standard I was involved in Art practice with a teacher. But I didn't push after school and didn't join Fine Arts. I took a break of three years. I traveled. I took a temporary job. I had a very different life. I traveled alone almost ten years from city to city.

I tried to find an isolate place to find myself and concentrate and focus on what I like to do.

A colleague suggested that I travel to India. India felt like an extension of Korea - I didn't think of it as a different, far away country. My impression of India was that it had so much more variety than Korea - variety of culture, people, colors.  Everything is different but it all exists equally in India. What has been the most difficult adjustment to make in India?

Kim: I still have problems with the reluctance to be able to affect one's own destiny. If there is an economic downturn for example, the belief that the self cannot impact it and its all part of destiny is something I have problems with. I also have issues with the religious and class divisions in India.

Indians are very warm and welcoming to foreigners. But its the division within India that disturbs me. Kim, I mean this as a compliment: some of your new paintings scare me to death! They are beautiful and foreboding. Where does this come from? Do you read scary novels or watch scary movies?

Kim: This is mostly because of the theme I've dealt with (the Korean Comfort Women of World War II).

This show is almost two years of my work. During the initial stages of creating these paintings, I was very depressed but I didn't realize it. Everybody around me used to notice that I was down and depressed but even when I realized this, I didn't know why. After a year into working towards my show - I was able to finally define the issue, control my emotions and paint them. I repainted several of my works at that point. Ok, let's talk about your working style. What is the process of painting like for you?

Kim: For me a painting is like a diary. There is movie I once watched in about a village where everyone goes to the trees. They put their mouth into the hollow of a tree and whisper into it. The villagers make a list of those trees that contain their thoughts. That is what my paintings feel like for me.

When I start on my paintings I write my idea down. Sometimes its one word, or one line or a haiku. I don't sketch out my idea because it dilutes the essence for me. I go straight to the painting. Earlier I used to paint one by one. Now I finish about 80% of a painting and leave it for some time. At this point I try to define it further. This process goes on in my head. So I attend to other paintings in the meantime. Then I finish the final work on the painting.

When I start its very abstracts - I paint the atmosphere. The form comes later. I listen to the paintings and I like to hear what it says instead of imposing my ideas. Kim, would you like to tell us about a couple of your paintings?

ALBATROSS: Ok, first let me talk about the painting I used for the invitation cards for my exhibition. It has a female figure with a big spiral on top. I was thinking of the victims of the sex slavery. These women were living outside their hometown and couldn't go back to their families. It's been almost 70 years since it happened. Society was much more conservative then. Recently even in India a girl was molested, couldn't bear to live with it and committed suicide. I visualized this type of horrified memory that the women carry as an albatross. I tried to imagine what the albatross might look like for the Korean women.

RESONANCE: My husband is an archeologist. I tried to imagine the excavation of a temporary site used to commit these atrocities by the Japanese Army. What could be under the earth? That was the initial thought. There is the image of a tree without any flowers. The tree might be dead - it even looks like a jackal. There is a traditional Korean blouse that can be seen on it. When archeologists find it - they would call it an 'artifact'. The women used in sex slavery were young so I used a colorful blouse.



musical said...


Thank you, Kim!

And thank you, Aspi.

Anonymous said...

Very nice work Kim, thanks Aspi, great interview.

Deep said...

wow, this made me forget bollywood for the day

the second painting really touched my heart. from what i read in the interview it must have taken a lot out of kim to paint it.

Jasmine Shah Varma said...

Well done Aspi! Nice interview.

Mind Rush said...

Wow, I am really impressed by Kim Kyoungae's depth of feeling and articulation. She connects with emotions from 70 years ago, and also with those in her host country. Her art is more meaningful now that I know the back story. Great job, Aspi!

Unknown said...

Glad everyone enjoyed this. Kim is one of my favorite artists!

Ace said...

That translated man. more so cause im a fan of surreal art.

Her perspective on her art gives it such a punch and dimension. though i cant attend im gonna google some of her work.

thanks aspi