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Arirang unites: 17 Korean American women artist reflect on cross-cultural heritage at exhibition opening

The diversity of the folksong Arirang, with its many regional variations and flavors across Korea, was well matched by the eclectic artwork featured in Arirang: 17 Women Artists, which opened at the Korean Cultural Center Washington DC in May 2012.


Organized by Komelia Hongja Okim, Professor of Art and Metal at Montgomery College in Maryland, the opening reception on May 4 included a performance by Korean fusion rock group TODA, who performed their modern take on Arirang for an audience of about 70 guests.


The 17 featured artists, who are of Korean origin and currently living in the United States, are united in this exhibition by the emotional and aesthetic sense that defines Arirang, Okim said. The beloved song, often characterized as capturing the national sentiment of the Korean people, tells the story of a forlorn woman immersed in grief at the departure of her lover; though she scorns him, she also longs for him and recalls fond memories.


“This Arirang exhibition of works portrays colorful scenes, aesthetic sensitivities, rhythmic gestures, and nostalgic moods, all of which reflect my life experience in both Korea and America,” Okim said.


“In my work, I look for ways to transfer traditional East Asian art forms onto the Western canvas, creating a juxtaposition of East and West,” said featured artist Myungsook Ryu Kim in her statement. “The Asian theme of nature, including earth, heaven, flowers, and ancient Chinese characters, are the ‘vocabulary’ or substance of my work. The abstract images and forms embody complex layers of the spiritual and emotional, a living energy that is a strong focus of Korean artists.”


Although the theme of the exhibition often is associated with sadness and remorse, Arirang is also a song about joy over life’s great moments, and a positive view towards good memories to come.


“I am very proud to be one of the Korean artists featured in this exhibit, Arirang,” said featured artist Jane Boksoon Thomas in her statement. “One of my paintings, Mugungwha, depicts the Korean national flower, which representing the theme of this exhibition. I hope that my painting reflects the joy and passion that I experience in every aspect of my life.”


“They say that one's basic personality forms at the age of three. Culture and emotions never leave you no matter how long you have been away from your motherland,” said featured artist Soonjung Hwang in her statement. “Themes in my artwork consistently relate to my native culture. There are times when it could be just emotions or forms of crafts and motives from the past, especially when I am working with prints or a paper weaving technique. Since I left Korea, my family has lived in three different locations in the United States, twice as long as in Korea. Naturally, Western culture and education have influenced me as well.”


Arirang has been sung in Korea for centuries. While the song’s exact origins are unknown, as well as the meaning of its title, its emotional depth and popularity among Koreans are indisputable.


The artists featured in this exhibit are Jane Boksoon Shin Thomas (신복순), Soonjung Han Hwang (한순정), Komelia Hongja Okim (김홍자), Kim Yoomi (김유미), Okji Chung Kim (정옥지), Kyungai Kim Pang (김경애), Myungsook Ryu Kim (류명숙), Kyungai Hong Jun (홍경애), Junghwa Kim Paik (김정화), Sukjin Choi (최석진), Diane Youngmi Kang Lee (강영미), June Jaehee Yun (허재희), Jeongseon Kim Choi (김정선), Jeongsook Oh (오정숙), Hwajin Lee (이화진), Shin-Yeon Jeon (전신연), and Hye Jun Joung (정혜전).


This exhibit was open May 4 – 21. For a schedule of upcoming exhibits and events at the Korean Cultural Center Washington DC, check the calendar at www.dynamic-korea.com or join the mailing list here.