Still Present Pasts: Korean Americans and the “Forgotten War” (April 7-August 13, 2011)

A photograph of three legacy flags created in 2005 by Injoo Whang. The flags hang vertically and feature Korean and English text that reads "Still Present Pasts."
Legacy Flags 유산의 깃발, Injoo Whang, Ji-Young Yoo, Soyoung Park, cloth, ink, thread, bamboo, 84″ x 48″ x 120″, 2005. 황인주, 유지영, 박소영, 천, 잉크, 실, 대나무, 84″ x 48″ x 120″, 20.

Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, Gallery
41-51 East 11th Street

Still Present Pasts: Korean Americans and the “Forgotten War” is a multimedia exhibition exploring memories and legacies of the Korean War. The exhibition features installation, performance art, documentary film, archival photographs, and oral histories. Amplifying the stories of ordinary Korean Americans who experienced the war, the exhibition creates a shared space of remembering. The Korean War claimed the lives of over three million people, ushered in the Cold War era, and remains stalemated in an armistice agreement nearly six decades since its signing. Yet it remains, to many Americans, the “forgotten war.” 

About the Contributors

Ramsay Liem is a professor of psychology at Boston College. He directs the “Korean American Memories of the Korean War” oral history project, and teaches in the Asian American Studies Program and Department of Psychology. He has spoken widely about oral history work, and is preparing a book manuscript based on his research. He is the founder of several Korean American community organizations, and is involved with numerous Asian American organizations. For this exhibition, Liem served as Project Director.

Deann Borshay is the producer and director of the Emmy Award-nominated documentary, First Person Plural, which was broadcast nationally on PBS as part of the acclaimed documentary series, Point of View (POV). First Person Plural had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2000, and received numerous awards. Borshay was also an Executive Director for the National Asian American Telecommunications Association. For this exhibition, she created a video installation about Korean orphans, and a biographical clip of one woman’s reunion with her family in North Korea. She also prepared and designed the displayed video and audio oral histories. 

Injoo Whang received her BFA from Hong-Ik University in Seoul, South Korea and her MFA from the Parsons School of Design. She has exhibited her work in Korea and the United States, describing it as using “humble” or “fragile” materials to magnify the paradoxical sense of making something out of nothing. In her most recent work, she used torn-up paper and vinyl curtains to metaphorically heal wounds and divisions in life. For this exhibition, Whang created “A Girl with a Tank,” an installation inspired by paradoxical memories of the war. She also collaborated on several other pieces.

Ji-Young Yoo received her BFA from Hong-Ik University in Seoul, South Korea, her MFA from City College of New York, and her MA in Media Studies from The New School. She has shown in numerous exhibits in Korea and the United States and organized the group exhibition Diaspora, Difference, Division: New Works in New York City. She worked as a miniature builder for the Korean War Memorial Museum in Korea and her interests include diaspora and Korean culture. Yoo created three multi-media installations for this exhibition, shared in producing several others, and served as the Exhibit Designer.

Yul-san Liem received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts. She is a community artist and activist whose paintings and installations address themes of war, division, and resistance. For this exhibition, Liem designed and built “Bridge of Return” and “Our Puzzle,” both interactive installations that invite viewers to become participants in the process of remembering, reconciling, and creating. She also shared in producing several other Still Present Pasts pieces and in designing the exhibit’s graphic materials. She serves as the project’s Administrative Coordinator.

Sukjong Hong received her BA in architecture from Yale University. She is currently a Masters candidate in Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning. Her research interests are in gender and development, especially in the context of food security, migration, and economic transition in Asia. These interests were spurred by the farmer movement in South Korea and the sustained food and energy shortages experienced by people in the DPRK. She has worked most recently with immigrant youth in Queens, New York, on issues of immigration, education, and the myth of the American Dream using media as a tool for empowerment and dialogue. She contributed “My Mother Used to Tell Me” to Still Present Pasts, an installation based on one woman’s oral history that expresses kinship with and compassion for the “enemy.”

Yong Soon Min is an accomplished visual artist and chair of the Studio Art Department at UC Irvine. She is a recipient of a Visual Artists Fellowship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Ranging in media from photography to installations, her work has been exhibited in the US and abroad, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Camerawork Gallery, Kumho Museum, Fourth Baguio Art Festival, Museum Folkwang, and in two Havana Biennials. Her work includes numerous pieces incorporating themes of division and the lasting imprint of war on Koreans and Korean Americans. To this exhibition, she contributed “Defining Moments,” six 20 in. x 16 in. silver gelatin prints with etched glass, which embody the chronology of significant events relating to the artist’s personal and political history. 

Grace M. Cho is a biracial Korean American who was born in Pusan, Korea and moved to the US as a young child. She is the author of the book, Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War (University of Minnesota Press, 2008). Her academic and performance work deals with how trauma travels across boundaries of time and space. She has performed several pieces on trauma and diaspora.

Hosu Kim is currently a visiting assistant professor in the Department for the Study of Culture and Society at Drake University. She came to the US in the early 1990s from Korea. She is currently working on the book, A Virtual Mothering (working title), a cultural critique of the emergent figure of the Korean birthmother in popular media. As a performing sociologist, Kim is also interested in the ways in which performance generates effective relationships with audience and readers.

With her family, Hyun Lee emigrated from Korea to the US in 1980. She is a social justice activist and was formerly the director of the Chinatown Justice Project of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. In this position, she organized immigrant youth, low-income tenants, and street vendors in New York City’s Chinatown. She is currently studying acupuncture.


Image: Defining Moments 조화와 혼돈, Yong Soon Min, six-part black and white photo series with etched text on glass, 20″ x 16″ each, 1992.