A young woman was found dead, murdered, on May 17 of last year, near Gangnam Station in Seoul. In Korean society, where a woman lives under the threat of death and gets killed almost every two days, a murder case like this shouldn’t have caused a stir. However, many expressed their condolences through social media and the case has paved the way for a more woman-centered perspective on social misogyny. Focus Female Korea: Never Ending Song tackles these old-fashioned yet new sentiments which were recently awakened in Korean society.
This erroneous point of view on women, found in both Eastern and Western civilizations, is characteristic of Korean culture. In fact, misogyny has permeated through societies and cultures. Misogyny is like a never ending song. This exhibition highlights a feminist perspective that is recognized in modern Korean society and is represented by an axis that follows the traces of diaspora women from South Korea and Japan from the beginning of WWII until today. The aim of this exhibition is not to solely look at misogyny based on this murder case, but to view today's phenomenon as a tool for establishing a multi-dimensional perspective, as opposed to a “men versus women” paradigm.
In this exhibition, time and space are the principal axis in terms of history which, in fact, traverse contemporary Korean society. At the same time, they are interlinked with the memories of our mothers and grandmothers who experienced WWII and its aftermath, the most turbulent years in modern history. These memories are passed onto their daughters. Modern history in most Asian countries began with colonization. Therefore, unlike in Western society where the form of a ‘modern subject’ was shaped based on rationality in the process of industrial capitalism, the acquisition of subjectivity was rather different in Asian nations. Colonized nations initially used nationalism to justify the subjectivity of women and later displaced the foundation of Korean women’s lives shortly after WWII.
Based in Germany for a long time, Chan-sook Choi has been dealing with issues around female immigrants of South Korea and Japan. Choi & You is a work that looks back on the route these women took by suggesting a new perspective. This work includes footage recorded from Korea, Japan and Berlin while following the traces of her paternal grandmother, a Japanese woman, who was the only family member to have experienced the life of a female immigrant, just like the artist herself. In this documentary, every stop on this route is a real place that appeared in an old photo album that her grandmother left her. The artist attempts to perceive a social and political narrative from the position of an individual while striving to reproduce that narrative in a form that closely resembles the fundamental circumstances by deconstructing and comparing it with other media. The artist refers to this act as a ‘narratology experiment’. This work incorporates installation and video and Choi says that it’s about, “the things that we encounter, one by one, as if entangled in a net,” a journey to look for her grandmother’s traces.
If Chan-sook Choi faithfully manages to artistically archive the trajectory of the diaspora women, Soni Kum, on the other hand, attempts to build her own route. As a South Korean who grew up in a North Korean community in Japan, Kum’s background has created a particular perspective that encompasses the extremities of society as an artist. Her complex identity is well presented in the work Offering, Seven Boats by taking a unique point of view and expressing her thoughts as both an outsider and an insider on the historical events that marked South Korea, North Korea and Japan. This work shows that ‘men’ as a subject - who were regarded as essential leading figures in the industrialization of Korea in the 1970s and the democratization of the country - were not free from the correlation between knowledge and power, just like women. The artist uses installation and video works as well as a performance that borrows from the traditional Korean shamanistic ritual of ‘Gime’ which commemorates a dead person by making a paper boat that represents the body and medium of a god.
This exhibition revolves around the story of memories and personal experiences discovered by women and their daughters in terms of their country and its women. However, the exhibition does not only hold a female-centered perspective. Rather, it counter questions on universal and objective value judgement forced by rationalism of modern times and also reinterprets personal values that were excluded from its standards. The feminist perspective clearly clashes with every standard mentioned above and hence emerges in this debate.
What kind of pedigree will be handed over to the next generation with this change in perspective being advocated? This exhibitions aims to look back on the marginalized female-centered history in both studies and society while not confining it to the sexual discrimination frame of some media. At the same time, it also aims to share a subjective and alternative recognition on social structure. A new recognition is indeed the most powerful tool to heal and resist.
Goeun Song (space O’NewWall Curator)