Gyopo:

alone, in-between, and neither

Marcellus, MI

July 2021

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Oh geez. Set aside your weekend, this post is going to last forever.

Gyopo is one of the most special exhibitions I have and ever will put on. It was so painfully personal, and because of it, resulted in tremendous personal growth.

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On 4th of July weekend, in a small, predominantly Caucasian community, I opened Gyopo, a site specific exhibition to illuminate the silent struggle of being Asian in America through my personal journey as a natural born US citizen with Korean heritage. 

Gyopo is a term used to describe the Korean diaspora and their descendants. The term isn’t a pejorative, but it can have a negative connotation when used by Koreans. I'm the first to be born in America on my mother’s side, whose family immigrated into Detroit’s Cass Corridor during the early 70’s.

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I have struggled to develop a positive sense of self and identity as I spent my formative years trying to assimilate with white culture. In my youth, I even desired to be white and made great efforts to distance myself from other Asians, even made fun of them to fit in. My struggle to develop self-confidence and a sense of identity as a Korean-American was exacerbated by my first and only visit to Korea. I was seen as an American and looked down upon because I couldn’t speak the language.

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Gyopo is a cathartic body of work that explored my seemingly inescapable sense of loneliness and lack of acceptance that culminated in an effort to define, celebrate, and identify as a Korean-Detroiter.

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Most of the work for Gyopo was created at Lakeside Inn which is just minutes from Stevensville, where I lived from 5th grade to 9th grade. Stevensville and Marcellus (where the gallery is located) are strikingly similar in population and are both about 95% Caucasian, and less than .5% Korean. Han is the first Asian to participate in Lakeside’s 100+ year old residency program, and the first Asian to exhibit in Marcellus at Patch & Remington.

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During my residency, Detroit Public Television came out to document my show.

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Upon completion of the body of work, I gifted Lakeside two pieces of artwork. The show is so special to me, and left a permanent impact on my life, so I wanted to leave a little something behind that would stay forever with them.

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I also had the opportunity to leave a permanent mark on Marcellus, by creating a mural on the facade of the Patch & Remington gallery. I was a little worried residents would not like the work, but as people drove past, many of them honked and lowered their windows to yell positive affirmations. It was an incredible experience.

Installation

This show was an incredible challenge to produce and hang. Thankfully Craig Hejka came down from Detroit to hang the show and finish the weirdest thing I've ever made. Twinkie art. 

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Check out that precision twinkie placement.

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The show took Craig an entire day to hang. Like 14 hours or something insane like that. Plus he had to drive 3 hours each way. I felt so bad as he had to stop on the way home to catch a couple z's. The dude is just the hardest worker, kindest soul, and I'm so incredibly grateful to work with him and call him a friend. 

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We had two openings, one for locals, and one for Detroiters. It was so incredible to meet the people of Marcellus, and see friends who made the trek. 

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Before the opening, we smashed Korean coneys. I'm SO SO SO SO SO grateful for Sarah and Tony, the owners of Patch & Remington. They gave me the opportunity to put on this incredible show, and I can't thank them enough.

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Mo and Joe were great supervisors.  

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And this work of art melted my heart.

A young girl who lives in Marcellus saw the show and really enjoyed the work. Especially the two-headed tiger (aka self portrait, aka horangis). She insisted on revisiting the gallery to view it again with her parents, and when she returned, she drew this picture of it, and wanted me to see it.

She's the third tiger, and we are connected now. 

We're like Voltron, only better.