- Art as a Political Act:Expression of Cultural Identity, Self-Identity, and Gender by Suk Nam Yun and Yong Soon Min
A number of artists of color, including Asian American women, are creating art from the basis of their lived experiences. Within minority groups searching for their cultural identity, establishing self-identity is an important process. For various psychological and sociological reasons, artists seem inspired to seek deeper meaning and a broader participation in cultural work.1 Asian American women artists, in particular, are currently making art as a means of exploring self-identity, cultural identity, and gender issues. Korean/Korean American minority women artists are creating art as a reaction to their cultural upbringing, which questions issues of identity, gender, ethnicity, politics, cultural, and socioeconomic status. These contemporary artists are breaking away from traditional cultural expectations and overcoming social barriers as artists, women, and Koreans/Korean Americans. With the growing public awareness of women's consciousness and sense of self as women in Korea and as an ethnic minority in America, these artists are redefining their identity. Despite the traditional patriarchal Confucian hierarchy; lack of social, institutional, and political support; and stereotypic gender, cultural, and socioeconomic status expectations for women, a few have stepped out of their traditional roles as women and have become successful artists in Korea and America.
The artworks of these artists are worthy of investigation because they appear to be a culturally, socially, and politically motivated artistic expression of the complex multifaceted Korean/Korean American life experiences as women and as Korean immigrant members of a cultural (ethnic) minority in American society. Therefore, two main research questions can be posed: [End Page 71]
• Given that art can be constructed out of layers of different experiences and influences, to what extent do the dimensions of cultural identity, self-identity, and gender interweave and contribute to the function of art as a political act for Korean/Korean American women artists?
• How do Korean/Korean American cultural, social, and female experiences influence the artistic expression of Korean/Korean American women artists?
In order to answer these questions, I selected case study methodology2 and adapted elements of interpretive biography,3 and narrative approaches as developed by Wallace and Gruber.4 According to Denzin,5 interpretive biography involves the collection and analysis of personal experiences, life documents, stories, accounts, and narratives that describe turning-point moments in individuals' lives. Denzin argues that personal experiences and personal stories are derived from a larger cultural, ideological, and historical context. The intent of the biographical project is to problematize the social, economic, cultural, structural, and historical forces that shape, distort, and otherwise alter lived experiences.
By using narrative case study methods, I explore elements of self-identity formation, cultural identity, gender issues, personal thoughts, artistic expression, meaning of artworks, professional achievement, and life circumstances. I examine each participant's life in the Korean and American historical, cultural, social, and political environments. I interpret participants' outer lives (what they do) and inner lives (feelings, thoughts, inner self) to capture their deep, profound life experiences. I examine salient themes of their art expression and how the role of art and artistic activity is a part of political, cultural, social, and feminist activism. I further investigate their professional activities in order to identify the multiple roles that contribute to personal and professional identity formation.
For the purpose of this study, I selected the contemporary Korean woman artist Suk Nam Yun and the contemporary Korean American woman artist Yong Soon Min as primary participants. These two women artists, despite many social and cultural barriers, chose to become artists; feminists; and social, cultural, and political activists; in addition to fulfilling traditional Korean family and domestic roles. Yun and Min are regarded as the leading contemporary Korean/Korean American women artists whose artworks deal with issues of cultural, social, feminist, political, and hybrid identity and art as political activism.
Lippard acknowledges that visual images play an increasingly important role in society.6 Art that connects everyday experience with social critique and creative expression becomes a vital means of reflecting upon the nature of society and social existence.7 Artworks can function as...