Globalization and Ethnic Identity in the Art of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Yong Soon Min, and Nikki S. Lee
Shannon, Joshua A.
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This dissertation offers a comparative study of the work of three Korean American women artists: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982), Yong Soon Min (1953-), and Nikki S. Lee (1970-). While the works by these three artists have garnered some critical attention, they have never been the subject of in-depth art historical research. Embracing the artistic media of photography, film, and video in their work these three artists express a common concern about their identities as simultaneously Koreans, Americans, and women. By looking at these artists' work together, this dissertation explores how the three artists negotiate their hybrid cultural identities in a globalized contemporary America. This dissertation also examines the role of photography, film, and video as their major artistic media following the art practice of the 1970s' Conceptualism. Cha's subtle and allusive film and video installation, Exilée (1980), for example, features images associated with the colonial history of her home country along with images and text about trans-pacific passage. Min's work from the 1990s includes photographs of writing on her own body, and images referring to historical events in both Korea and the United States. In her performative series of photographs entitled Projects (1997-2001), Lee disguises herself as a member of various social and cultural groups, trying to assimilate into them. Together, the three artists offer an intensive comparative case study of the ways in which hybrid cultural identity can be figured in the contemporary world. Focusing on the interpretive analysis of selected art works, the dissertation will show the unique intensity of the visual arts as a tool to communicate concepts of cultural identities, while also bringing needed specificity to the theoretical debates on the issues of cultural and ethnic identities.