My thesis reflects and reminisces upon the hours spent on the internet in my bedroom, alone. Digging to find more about the other half of my hyphenated Korean-Canadian identity. I reintroduce myself to the part of Korean culture I rejected throughout childhood, by watching YouTube videos, dance reality TV shows and using my mother’s sewing machine. With it, I make my own my 한복, a Korean traditional dress, by hand to represent my constructed cultural identity. My 한복 is a collection of memories of my childhood, adolescence and adulthood, acting as an object to celebrate my imperfections of a second-generation Korean-Canadian immigrant and continue the dialogue between me and my immigrant parents.
Bedroom Culture is a term to describe the bedroom as a sacred place for a child of an immigrant family; as pace that may feel like the only freedom for true self-expression and identity. Whether the child occupies their bedroom by choice - or by force - it becomes a safe haven, one where that child can explore themselves freely and feel “at home” despite the reality constructed by their immigrant parents:unrealistic expectations, as well as constant miscommunications caused by the clash of Eastern and Western household cultural traditions.
Most of my time in my room was spent browsing the internet, trying to find a community to be a part of. Thus, the online world of YouTube and reality dance tv shows consumed me as I furthered my understanding of my Korean heritage. This activity is very common within diasporic individuals where Naveera Ahmed, a PhD candidate of Trent University’s Masters of Arts program, writes about the role YouTube cooking videos play in helping her remember her Indian heritage, examining a particular channel called,“ShowMetheCurry,” presented by Anuja Balasubramanian and Hetal Jannu, two Texas women that inhabit a diasporic domesticity by cooking Indian dishes. Both Anuja and Hetal cook as a way to maintain a sensory link to their home of origin, India. As a result, these diasporic women created a strong online community, using this digital space as a way to explore and maintain their connection to the past home, India” (Ahmed 2013).
Ahmed’s writings remind me of my childhood where I discovered YouTube and eventually my love for dance.This special moment led to me watching hours of reality dance television shows,and self-teaching myself a way of expressing myself with movement and music.What was most memorable about this period of my life was seeing many people of colour on mainstream media. This was the first time I witnessed Asian-American second and third-generation immigrants on television pursuing their dreams fearlessly. The many hours spent in my room playing the same dance videos on repeat added to me slowly accepting the Korean parts of my culture that I rejected from childhood. The “ShowMetheCurry” channel also shares the stories of each recipe, revealing more about the womens’ longing for the tastes of their home of origin, and the way they attempt to retain this past within the present home in the host country” (Ahmed 2013). This circumstance is quite unique because of how Balasubramanian and Jannu enhances the functionality of a common space, into a diasporic kitchen, placing an entirely new meaning and perspective to their transnational identity. As Ahmed mentions the kitchen as a space of change, my room acts at the influential space of creation.
As the internet was the only medium I felt comfortable interacting with my parents, the transition to choreograph a dance performance speaks to the impact reality dance shows had on my adolescence. For the first time, dance reality TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) and America’s Best Dance Crew (ABDC) had people of colour that I could identify with. For the first time, I feel I did not have to conform. Not only did dance bring me out of my shell, it allowed me to accept myself as a Korean-Canadian.
I take great inspiration from Feng Jiang’s collaborative work, 行為藝術家 NEW AMERICANA IV: I Have Become Me Now as I delve into live and musical performance as an expressive medium. I am also collaborating with a local Korean-Canadian sound artist. Feng’s piece is simple, yet poetic requiring only simple materials to execute and convey a complex message. What strikes me about the piece as well is how each performer is independently able to share their story while the sum of their parts create a large and stronger weave of a collective garment us as viewers can wear.
Jiang Feng is a non-gendered, multi-disciplinary working across areas of dance, movement, art, voice, text and theory. Feng’s work challenges social and gendered constructs within the sexuality and racial labels that are placed amongst Asians immigrants residing in North America. Feng collaborates with fellow performance artists and fashion designer, YunRay Chung, Chia-Hao Shen, Celine Lin and photographer Steven Molina Contreras. This collaborative piece incorporates the passage of time as each performer shares their story of immigration through several pieces of garments. As each storyteller passes the one set of garments to each other, they interact with them differently, “trying each one on with their own mind and will, testing the garments’ possibilities.” Feng’s piece led me to explore Korean traditional dress (한복) within my piece, as garments carry a great deal of history and shared memories.
At the end of NEW AMERICANA IV: I Have Become Me Now, the last performer weaves the garments into a loom, forcing the garments back to fabrics, but they will never be fabrics again, reflecting upon the hand-me-down culture which is a common practice within Asian households. The eldest would pass down their grown-out clothes to the next siblings and so forth. This exchange is a beautiful metaphor for representing the way stories are told, and passed on to generations. We will never be who we were again. The sum of our parts creates a collective being, passing through time and space. With my mother’s sewing machine, I carefully fabricate my 한복 to represent the pieces of my constructed and hyphenated identity. Feng’s piece poetically speaks about the immigrants' experience carrying many difficulties, learned so many things and changed so much for the new country. They became their own community between two cultures, telling a story in a story itself.
By performing in Korean traditional clothing adds another layer of my constructed identity through combining my Korean and Canadian selfs. Kim Sooja’s work is both performative and sculptural. Kim’s piece, Looking into Sewing uses Bottari, a traditional Korean cloth used to wrap clothes, books, gifts and other household items and is also used also a Korean term for bundle. Instead of using Bottari to wrap an object, Kim wraps herself with Bottari explaining how her bundle is made up of used clothes from anonymous people. Kim writes:
“We are wrapped in cotton cloth at birth, we wear it until we die, and we are again wrapped in it for burial. Especially in Korea, we use cloth as a symbolic material on important occasions such as coming of age ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and rites for ancestors. Therefore cloth is thought to be more than a material, being identified with the body - that is, as a container for the spirit. When a person dies, his family burns the clothes and sheets he used. This may have the symbolic meaning of sending his body and spirit to the sky, the world of the sky, the world of the unknown."
Bundles are an ongoing theme within Kim Sooja’s work, focusing on what is contained within the bundle. What do we wrap ourselves with? What are we trying to protect as we clothe ourselves? As I am fabricating my own 한복, as a form of protection and personal identity, Kim’s work challenges me to question the relationship between traditional garments and the physical body.