Picture above: The Nomadian. Credits: Qri Kim. Reproduced by permission.
We have lost our day to day normality, our intimacy, our generosity, and our sense of humanity. “Due to Covid-19” has become an indispensable sentence or comment in our conversation. We have found ourselves tacitly accepting the demands of social distancing. I would suggest that this agreement is based on our wish to be good citizens. But, how can we know if we are good citizens? How can we actually distinguish between being a good or a bad citizen? If we follow the standardised Good citizen guidance, would the pandemic be over? Could we then get closer to each other? I would ask: before Covid-19, how many times have we made excuses and drawn a line between us and our neighbours?
Many countries have enacted laws for protecting minorities, calling for social change. However, some of the rules seem to result in making an ‘In-Between Minority’, a liminal group of individuals who cannot attain neither minority nor majority status. I call this group ‘Nomadian’.
In this project, I intend to focus on the Nomadian’s struggle straddling the line between two different worlds and to explore the question – How can art convey the experience of Nomadian liminality and struggles to those outside, that which cannot be articulated through language?
I intend to carve out the imagery of the frontier between outsiders and the minority by shaping the Nomad’s struggles into a line through a series of workshops held over 16 days. These workshops consist of writing sessions and forming lines using the mise-en-abyme technique. Through these workshops, I tried to make sense of the Nomadian’s melancholy through their writing.
My project started with the LGBT community in South Korea, a country that is classified under Zone 2. There are no explicit anti-discrimination laws in the country and the constitutional and society in general are not ready to fully welcome the LGBT community. I think some LGBT Koreans are a good example of being nomadian as they are isolated at the border, excluded through hegemony, conventional norms, mainstream media, and bias.
In my art I prefer to use the term “learn” when regarding someone’s personal history and not to intervene in their narrative. I think that it is not possible to participate in another’s inner story, ever. What we can only do is learn and try to include minorities through our actions. My aim is to find possibilities to bridge the margin which already exist around us, through my conceptualising-line practice. I would like to name this project “Due to”. Below are stories of individuals in South Korea, who have been excluded, who sit at this boundary between mainstream society and those marginalised.
“Due to (the Covid-19 virus)”
There is a serious problem of an anti-gay backlash in South Korea due to Covid-19. A man was infected with coronavirus after attending clubs in Seoul’s gay district, which was reported in the media. His reluctance to have a Covid-19 test brought about a 7th wave and placed the LGBT community in danger. He asked for the mercy of the law, however, unfortunately, he has got an actual prison sentence. He stated “I was extremely worried to test positive for the Covid-19 virus. I was in fear of the social and professional humiliation…”.
“Due to (your changed sex)”
Byun Huisoo joined the army as a man but had gender reassignment surgery after suffering from gender dysphoria. “I will continue to fight until I am allowed to remain to serve in the army…” The Korea government employs mandatory conscription system for men; however, the government has not yet taken appropriate countermeasures.
My name is Jang. I am not a monster and I am not a prostitute. I am a transgender-bar owner in Busan. I have a lovely husband and his family accept me as a member of family. I am a Youtuber and communicate through/on social media. I can feel that society has been changing slowly. I am a bit of a plastic surgery addict… Through several surgeries, finally, I have got a proper women’s body. However, I still feel that I am in between male and female. Therefore, I try to renew my gender identity with surgery… There are a few colleagues working with me. Most of them need a lot of money to get gender reassignment surgery but their only choice of employment is low-paid bar work. Some of them are still undecided whether they get surgery or not.
Yena is a famous trans-gender Youtuber. She used to be a popular academy teacher and she graduated from the top university in Korea. She was proud of her job and her previous students still remember her as a good teacher. Once she became Her, she lost her job. She could not find another job for a long time so that she often went without meals during the day. What she can only do is to become a Youtuber. She enjoys sharing her story with her viewers, however, still she wishes she could stand in front of students.
“Due to (being from South Korea)”
“Citizenship and Immigration Canada has a list of ‘safe’ countries considered to be ‘non-refugee producing’. Individuals coming from these designated countries are given an expedited refugee process of three months and no right to appeal a negative decision to the Immigration and Refugee Board Appeals Division” (Fobear, 2017). Since South Korea is considered as a ‘safe’ country, LGBT South Koreans cannot be part of the expedited refugee process, leading to the ironic consequence of LGBT South Koreans remaining in danger of discrimination in their home country.
“Due to (Christian doctrine)
Kim Wook-suk had spent years carefully and quietly trying to hide his sexuality. He was raised by a devout Protestant mother who taught him that being gay meant burning in hell. He listened fearfully in church as the pastor preached that homosexuality was a sin and encouraging it would bring disease. His mother, he says, kept trying to “save him”, but her actions meant he feared his own family at times. “Using people from her church , she tried to kidnap me multiple times to go through conversion therapy. I was forced to go through some of these therapies, however there were times I managed to avoid them and escape.” From the interview on ‘Gay in South Korea: ‘She said I don’t need a son like you’ (BBC,2019).
There are a lot of differentiated lines in our society and in our minds, and we are faced with lines every day. However, most of these are intangible so that we hardly can recognise them and disregard their significance. Through a re-conceptualisation of lines, I have attempted to visualise these social dissensus into a physical line. While society has tried to embrace difference and enacted rules to protect minorities, some of these rules have produced unintended forms of discrimination. Through my participatory workshop, I translated the struggles of an African gay participant into art. Using a rainbow image, I hope to pose the following question to viewers and readers:
- How can we quantify and measure the agony and pain experienced by minorities?
- How does one divide red and orange in a rainbow?
- How can one say that another is different?
- How does one judge the lightness of one sorrow over another?
 this is a particular technique in art and film to insert stories within a larger narrative, commonly overlapping with each other.
Qri is a PhD candidate at University of Edinburgh in Fine Art. Her research aims to shed light on the history of Korean comfort women, who were taken by the Japanese as sex slaves during the Second World War. She looks predominantly to archives and participatory workshops as her data collection method. You can follow her on Instagram @kim.qri