After the Korean War, the majority of Koreans who survived lived in extreme poverty and economic instability. As people became desperate for food, many people flocked to and around American military bases stationed around rural areas as they occupied South Korea. Soldiers in supply of a surplus of canned goods like Spam, hot dogs, and baked beans were sought out as they provided non perishable sources of protein that starving people so desperately needed. In the beginning, people would scavenge trash to dig out precious sources of food, but this soon escalated to a larger black market trade of military goods throughout Korea as communities festered and grew into cities around military bases.
As the trade grew, so did the sex industry catered to appease American male soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of women who became hostesses and waitresses in bars and brothels to escape poverty were encouraged by Korean government officials to cater their service for Americans to keep them stationed and safe against Northern threats. Another huge role they played were as trade proxies for the black market, as their close relationship with soldiers provided them with post-exchange privileges. These women who sometimes would become wives to soldiers were part of one of the first huge waves of Korean migrants to the United States.
My entry point to this time in history is the symbolic cultural significance of budae jjigae (부대찌개), or military base stew. A pot of simmering, spicy-red broth filled with Korean vegetables and American processed meat serves as the most emblematic and publicly present symbol of US-Korea relations today. Youth today are obsessed with its nostalgic qualities meant to be shared in groups, while they are mostly unaware of how it was first made. Its origin to a forgotten history is erased but not yet gone; its memory carried out by who cooks and who eats it.
The video is an attempt to live out my personal, current history by using the audio of a phone conversation with my mother and father, enacting a real-time attempt to remember past histories. The figure in the video is a ghost, one that seeks to perform and please others as an embodied product of colonialism and gender violence.
The animated piece is a closer experimentative process that layers the image of this food with its cultural memory with the techniques of drypoint, transfer, monotype, and chine collé. By building up these layers, I create a series of images in reference to each other that together form a single two-second animation with twelve frames per second (total of 24 prints). The image itself is on a large pot etched onto copper plate, with its contents being submerged and stirred in a series of prints. The objective is to create an animated loop of a stirring, swirling pot that dissolved the food ingredients into a strange time vortex of a violent history.
The Korean Diaspora
To me, tarot is a divination tool that systematically maps out a person’s past, present, and current state of being to answer a question deeply embedded. The traditional lexicon, however, does not connect with me as it is both too general and incomplete. As someone whose social responsibility and dedication to heal generations of trauma, I approach time as alinear, while others’ bodily placement in time is, in truth, always in flux. My journey towards healing, at the very least, starts with identifying my “shadow,” an inner self that is personified and non-personified with the inner motivations that drive my day to day self. Smaller insecurities are indicative of larger unspoken effects of trauma, made manifest in the conversation of identity. Asian/Americans and other people of color living the United States, especially, experience confused and mixed claims to identifying with nations and races that constantly displace them into the in-between. My goal is to use my personal journey of exploring self-identity as a “Korean/American woman” that would intersect into readings of other people and other self-identities, starting more complex conversations of gender, nationality, race, and religion as it applies to each person’s life histories. These tarot cards would utilize both multimedia painting and poetry, delineating a word-to-picture connection to receiving empathic communication. The second part of the project will be to practice the use of the cards with as many people as possible, considering others’ needs in conversation and in practice, to continue build a more established lexicon of language that describes the unknown in-between.