Sprouting’ exhibit offers Korean-American artists a chance to grow

Erin Kim

For some Korean-American artists in the Chicago area, a new Evanston art exhibit offers a chance for their works to “sprout” into the public eye.

The Chicago Korean American Art Association opened its “Sprouting” exhibit Sunday at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., presenting the works of 33 artists.

Sun H. Choi, the exhibit’s curator and president of CKAAA, said she chose the 35th show’s theme because of the season and because it relates to the current economic situation.

“Sprouts are really delicate, weak and sensitive, but they grow up, even though it’s really hard,” Choi said. “So even these days, with the harsh economic situations, we are alive and getting stronger.”

The works vary in medium and subject. One painting depicts a boy practicing the cello, while an abstract sculpture made of plastic and bricks represents the hardships of North Koreans.

Chicago-based artist Soo Youn Lee, whose work portrays a North Korean refugee’s story, said she wanted to use this exhibit to bring awareness to the harsh living conditions in North Korea.

The refugee who inspired her work, Lee said, left the country because there simply was no food. He was caught in China, returned to North Korea and sent to a concentration camp, where he carried bricks for no purpose but to spur a mental breakdown, she said.

“It’s a really great opportunity to show my art to the public, especially because I’m so interested in North Korean refugees,” Lee said. “I want people to know about the situation and let people interact with the issue through the art.”

In addition to sharing Korean issues with the public, the association strives to encourage the Korean community to interact more with the American community. Choi said she feels first-generation Korean-Americans keep to themselves, whereas second-generation Korean-Americans do not know as much about their heritage.

“I want to create a harmony between the first and second generations and make the Korean community get more involved with American society,” Choi said.

The exhibit opening featured a traditional kite-making workshop to teach second-generation Koreans as well as non-Korean participants more about Korean culture. Choi said she wanted the general public to take away a better understanding of the culture.

“It’s a chance to have the first-generation Koreans see our work and the second generation to learn Korean culture and enjoy it,” Choi said. “It’s not only for the Korean community, but also to the American people, even if they don’t know the Korean culture at all. It’s a good chance to get to know each other.”

Glencoe-based artist and teacher Pat Rose, who has seen works by Korean artists before, said she enjoyed the exhibit.

“I’ve really evolved a taste for Korean art,” Rose said. “This is very professional, high-quality work, and I hope some of the students I teach will reach this level of professionalism.”

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