Exhibit shows Asian differences

Message: One of the curators of a show at Oella Mill Gallery hopes art demonstrates how each culture is distinct.

July 29, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

As a Korean-born American, artist Barbara yousooja Han is aware that many Western people mistakenly see Eastern culture as being homogeneous. But the co-curator of the Oella Mill Gallery's first Asian American Artist Group Exhibition -- which showcases the work of 37 artists representing seven countries -- believes the show will go a long way toward dispelling that myth.

"Individually, they're all different," Han said of the countries. "The [art] techniques are different. Their theory of carrying life is different."

Indeed, the work displayed in the exhibit is as different as the backgrounds of the artists who created them. There are lifelike paintings of dead rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, but also a Garden of Eden-inspired display of life-sized, crocheted sculptures. (The work of Sun photographer Chiaki Kawajiri also is included.)

Then there is Han's work, a mix of paintings, drawings and striking sculpture influenced by the nature and topography of her native country. Many of Han's sculpted pieces lie on the floor, without the traditional columns or pedestals to support or display them.

For example, the piece "Million Years" consists of two sets of masklike, sculpted faces that lie in two circles on the floor. Han said the separation between the two sets of faces represents the political gulf between North and South Korea. "Public Bath" shows six voluptuous, nude figures arranged in a circle.

"Nature is not artificial," Han said of her organic arrangements. "It doesn't have to be displayed. I'm more free about this."

Han, 50, has vivid childhood memories of the devastation of the Korean War, memories which continue to influence her work.

After graduating in 1967 from Seoul National University, Han came to the United States in the 1970s while working for a Korean daily newspaper. Busy with raising a family and other jobs, her art was mostly a side endeavor. But the devastating end of her 25-year marriage in divorce changed everything, Han said, plunging her back into art as therapy.

"It's like a second life of mine," she said.

She is director of the Art Gallery of the Asian Pacific Art Institute of America in Ellicott City, a board member of International Sculptors Inc. USA and a winner of several international art awards.

Along with Jiashan Mu, president of the Asian Pacific Art Institute of America, Han conceived the exhibit and put out the call to artists representing countries including China, Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia and Japan.

"It was a lot of work," Han admits. "I wanted this to come out right. It's about time for Asians in America to pull out their own strengths together."

What: Asian American Artist Group Exhibition.

When: Now through Aug. 21.

Where: Oella Mill Gallery, 840 Oella Ave. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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