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RachelLee-Won, Karina, HanaWe Are Here And There And Then

Lee-Won Fulbright

Smith College


Korea’s image of racial purity and homogeneity is perpetuated by both Koreans and foreigners. In my work, I wanted to push back against this notion of purity by imagining what it would be like to see myself and other mixed-race people represented in historical art—a narrative from which we are noticeably absent. Using a painting style similar to minhwa, a form of Korean folk art, I integrate a half-Korean, or mixed-race, narrative into art history. Minhwa began in 17th-century Korea as art by  common, unknown artists and translates to “art of the people.” I found examples of minhwa in Korean art collection books and online, and, in my own work, used similar nature motifs and color palettes for the landscape and portraits, respectively.

By photographing and illustrating myself and my friends, I acknowledged and appreciated our similarities and differences as individuals in  part of Korea’s history. We are all half-Korean, but we look so different and possess such differing perspectives regarding our own experiences and identities. In these digitally-painted photographs, we wear hanbok—a traditional clothing that we do not feel completely welcome in—as well as contemporary pieces that clash with it. I became closer to these people while we collectively fumbled  to put on the hanbok, exchanged anecdotes about moments in which we questioned our biracial identities, and listened to each others' doubts about not feeling that we are—or look—"Korean enough." We are all inescapably from the present in bodies that do not completely belong to any one culture. Through this art-driven exploration, however, I have found a sense of belonging and community among these wonderful people.

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