Having grown up in the aftermath of the Korean War, I have lived with the heartache of seeing my homeland torn in half. My father fled to South Korea during the war and I grew up seeing his tears. Due to the war 10 million families were forcibly separated between the South and North Korea. The war is but a memory now, but the trauma of separation still persists within the hearts of Korean people.
North Korea is the nation of worst human rights violations. Even now countless souls are being snuffed out through famine, executions, political incarcerations, and hazardous escape attempts across the border to China. Right now there are about 200,000 refugees hiding in remote corners of China, living out their days in perpetual fear of repatriation. And in North Korea, a country of 24 million people, around 120,000 are currently imprisoned in concentration camps; as many as 400,000 souls have perished there. North Korea is also the nation of worst Christian persecution; as many as two hundred thousand Christians have been martyred under Kim’s regime.
For a long time I sought for means to respond to the turmoil and tragedies of my nation, a way for me to ease the grief in my heart. And my art has allowed me to address and channel my anger and sorrow towards the arduous process of healing. Through abstract and minimalistic visual language I wish to express the sights of sounds flowing through my soul, which fills my heart with hope for united Korea. There is no way I could possibly understand their hardship. But even so, with their cries of anguish ringing in my heart, I just burn and burn, because I can imagine no other method that could do justice to the depth of their suffering.
My art is done in a ritualistic manner meant to speak healing to the wounded spirits, praying for eradication of the roots of their sorrow. And through my arrangements of scorched burlaps, I express my compassion especially for those who either died during attempted escapes across the border, or were captured and perished in concentration camps. I roll up the fabric and accumulate them to burn as if I have collected the tragic tales of the victims, the coarse material symbolizing their tumultuous life and death. I quietly offer the people of North Korea these half-burnt ashes, knowing that one day the blood they’ve shed will become sparks that will make bloom the flower of freedom.