The quest for assertion of one´s identity is an underlying theme at the core of Parada-Kim´s work. The multicultural upbringing of the artist- she is half Korean and half Spanish and grew up in Germany- fuels her creative inspiration in various ways. Her oil paintings often reveal faded portraits of individuals or a group of people whose only distinctive characteristics consist of the clothes they are wearing. The Korean traditional costume, Hanbok, is the only clue that may lead us to guess the subject´s nationality. Other than the costume, there are no indications that could help identify the subject´s personality or temperament. We are made to focus more on the costume while the individuals wearing it disappear behind the artist and the subjects on her canvas also serves as a metaphor for today´s South Korean society where traditional values are losing ground in the face of the predominantly modern lifestyle.
Helena Parada-Kim uses photographs of members of her mother´s family to produce her work. Using family portraits as a source of inspiration for her painted work, she carefully transcribes the rich and colorful texture of the elegant Hanboks she saw in her mother´s albums. The feminine figures adorned with these rich and delicate garments fascinate the artist, who has never met them in person. They are painted with close attention to the detail of the clothing but with much less detail in the faces. The artist has chosen to give them consistency through their cultural identification rather then their personal existence. Each portrait carries the sitter´s name as it´s title and serves as a visual homage to the artist´s ancestry and to Korean traditions and culture as seen in the costumes that embody their owner´s identity.
About the exhibition
In this exhibition at the renowned Kunstlaboratorium Vestfossen in Norway the curator team of Jari-Juhani Lager (FI/DE) and Sunhee Choi (KR) created an exhibition with a ‘family’ of South Korean artists who have their bases in South Korea, Europe and America. Lager and Choi have for many years dedicated themselves to developing the South Korean art market. The artists’ shared ethnicity does not necessarily mean that the styles and techniques of their art have much in common; while abroad, however, they have done as many ‘expats’ have done before them – sought out compatriots with whom they might share and exchange experiences in social and professional networks. One common factor in their lives has been the period in which they have grown up; as the curators point out, many of them are the sons and daughters of the post-Korean War generation and they have witnessed the rapidly evolving sociopolitical and cultural context of South Korean society from the 1970s until today. To quote from the curators’ own text: ‘They are the generation who grew up in the tumult and dynamic conditions of modernization, and are the direct beneficiaries of cultural advances made possible by the advent of new technology. If they have a particular understanding of the depression of the Korean War and the nation’s current sociopolitical situation as its direct result, they also grew up with a sense of general euphoria and optimism in view of later developments in every aspect of society.’
All the artists represented in this exhibition are active on the South Korean contemporary art scene in various parts of the world. The artworks presented are as multi-faceted as the modern South Korean society with all of its internal conflicts – a society where the values of collectivism and individualism are tightly intertwined. The title Please Return to Busan Port is the same as one given to a video work by Kim Ayoung. For her part, Kim Ayoung borrowed it from the title of a song that every South Korean would recognize, due to its nationwide popularity. In her video the artist traces back in time, casting new light on specific events in history and redefining Korea’s fast economic rise. By focusing on the microscopic events and lives of the people, the artist attempts to reframe an established historical narrative seen through the ‘real’ lives that have been lead. She takes her role as storyteller seriously, and with her title she embraces the notion of an artwork as a journey homewards. The idea of ‘returning home’ serves as a metaphor for most of the South Korean artists in this exhibition, for they have brought to their art the fruits of long periods in ‘exile’ and their experience of western culture. Now their journey is perhaps returning them to their point of departure.