By Cami Yates
From Afar, last spring’s Senior B.F.A. in Studio Art exhibition hosted by the Visual Arts Center, asked students to respond to life in isolation, question notions of identity and spark dialogue around issues of social justice. Though the exhibition had to move to an online format in the wake of the pandemic, guest juror Kimberli Gant (PhD, Art History, 2017), the McKinnon Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at the Chrysler Museum of Art, was invited to select five outstanding Studio Art students from the exhibition. The students Gant selected all received the Steve Grosskopf Endowed Scholarship in Studio Art.
One selected student, Hyo-Jung Jeon, created a space designed to foster conversation from visitors about their personal experiences. “We live in a world where so many of us feel distant from each other,” Jeon wrote. “Creating shared space is a way for us to see how we have the capacity to feel the same sensations regardless of our differences.”
Jeon’s concept for her capstone project Hayan-nabi came to life after she attended a march to the Supreme Court last November to defend the DACA program. She felt empowered by other undocumented immigrants and how they were able to find strength in their pain to fight for their communities and loved ones.
“Being in that space, there was this energy that was present that made me want to recreate it into an installation and allow others to experience it,” Jeon said. “I wanted people to be able to come into this space just as they are, and feel like they belonged—like they mattered.”
It took Jeon two weeks to complete everything—planning out the installation measurements, dip-dying the fabric and installing it in the space. She explains that before starting any of her works, she looks for a material that makes her think of memories that she can associate with the material.
“The fabrics hung on the wooden dowels imitate the way my mother used to hang our laundry during my childhood,” Jeon said. “I loved watching the way waves rippled through the fabrics as they flowed in the air. I felt liberated, as if I was a part of those ripples.”
Growing up, Jeon never really understood where “home” was for her. Though she moved to the United States when she was 1 year old and considers it to be her home, she still feels the pushback from others who say that she doesn’t belong here. In her installation, she writes about how immigrants face a number of restrictions that cause them to struggle with their individual identities.
“Through my work, I want to create inclusive environments where people can feel a sense of liberation and belonging,” Jeon wrote. “We are all human beings who breathe the same air and experience the same feelings.”
Though the B.F.A. in Studio Art senior exhibition was staged online in the wake of the pandemic, Jeon hopes that others can still experience Hayan-nabi as intended and know that there are places that exist where they are able to feel empowered and have a sense of belonging.
Learn more about Jeon’s installation Hayan-nabi here.