Diaspora Art
Nikolai Shin, 1928-2006

Upon moving to foreign countries, members of diaspora communities confront challenges that question long-standing notions of identity and community. In trying to carve out a new life for themselves, immigrants must reconcile their past with an unfamiliar and overwhelming present, while simultaneously balancing disparate, even conflicting, cultural influences. As academic theorist Stuart Hall aptly suggests, “diaspora identities are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformations and difference”[1]. These actions provoke a change in how they view themselves and others, as well as in the way they reimagine their native lands.

Such changes are powerfully expressed through works of art. In fact, art often becomes the primary means by which to invoke the wide-array of emotional and social struggles present in diaspora peoples. Diaspora art therefore attempts to not merely observe or represent an experience, but rather to capture the intricate relationship between individual and communal identity, between what is forgotten and learned—across space and time.  

These diaspora artists often emerge through personal hardships and out of a desire to offer alternative narratives to widely presumed cultural encounters. They wish to not only remember and document the past, but to also dispute preconceived notions of what it means to be a member of a particular community. Their work engenders a sense rediscovery and affects new ways of viewing the world, providing a “mode of thinking” [2], as per professor Ernst van Alphen, that visualizes diaspora experiences and alters the way immigrants view their own histories. These artists are vital in how they highlight unconventional worldviews and in how they seek to address the conflicts that arise between personal and collective desires.

The East Foundation firmly upholds and believes in the transformative potential of art to convey the complex yet rich stories experienced by members of the Korean diaspora. As such, we believe it is essential to identify, archive and exhibit those artists whose works (paintings, photos, films, literature, etc.) focus on subjects related to diaspora and/or migration. By celebrating their content, we believe that we are actively acknowledging their art as an important form of storytelling. In this way, their artwork furthers our mission to share the extraordinary yet overlooked narratives in the Korean migrant community.

[1] Hall, Stuart. 2005. Cultural identity and diaspora. pp.235.

[2] Ernst van Alphen, Art in mind: How contemporary images shape thought, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. xiii.