A CONVERSATION WITH TRAUMA

Duk Ju L. Kim & Stephen Champion Cancerfund Galle Exhibition

How does art, in its varying mediums, provide a cathartic experience to those in its space, be it its creator, or its observer? And through which ways does an artist navigate the landscape of their experienced trauma and translate it into a work of art in service to the observer’s trauma? The interaction between art and the mental or physical comfort and security is one that allows for a space of catharsis and healing through an individual’s consciousness and becomes a therapeutic conversation between the artist and their work of art. The Cancerfund-Galle exhibition, founded by Pakistani artist and writer, in the attempt to advocate for communities to heal through the notions of art and raise awareness to the cause that contributes in supporting these communities. The first part of the exhibition will host upto twenty-four artists conversing through art the significance of this healing process and the efforts that must be applied to overcome these hurdles. In documenting these conversations, we spoke to artists Duk Ju L. Kim and Stephen Champion as we explored their perspectives of healing with art and the cathartic nuances of its implications.

Duk Ju L. Kim was born in Busan, South Korea and spent formative years of her childhood in Tehran, Iran, where her father moved the family for work. She received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She’s done post-graduate work at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Her artwork has been honored with numerous awards, including a Chicago Cultural Center Honorarium and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship recognizing exceptional artists in the state. Historical, geopolitical, and current events like the ones that shaped Kim's early life and perception of the world have a presence in her paintings, too. Exploring dichotomies and incongruities, Kim frequently injects seemingly random evidence of life onto an otherwise dystopian environment. Gravity and violence coexist with grace and beauty in Kim’s paintings. The effect is both exquisite and perverse.

Stephen Champion gained his BA in photography at the Arts Institute Bournemouth and his MFA at the Arts Institute San Francisco in the early 1980’s. He then became a freelance portrait photographer in London and was published in the leading magazines and publications of the time and his work was exhibited internationally. From 1986 he developed new works in Sri Lanka. His Sri Lankan photographs have appeared worldwide in magazines, academic research papers, newspapers, television and film productions, books and exhibitions. Champion has been visiting lecturer at several UK universities and his work is retained in both public and private collections. In 2013 the Brunei Gallery hosted his first retrospective exhibition at SOAS, London, where a broad range of his work was shown. His new works are bound together in ‘Lanka Portrait’, and ‘Lanka Colours of Change’; his fourth and fifth books, which he hopes to publish and exhibit in the near future under the title ‘Champion Lane’.

Q |WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ENGAGE WITH ART, AND CHOSE ART AS A MEANS OF EXPRESSING YOURSELF?

Duk Ju L. Kim | This is not a simple question. Everybody has their own story in the way they've developed into choosing the arts (visual, music, writing, i.e.) as a main form of communication. I drew and painted at a very young age - I guess it came to me naturally as I was a very shy youngster and tended to withdraw into my own world. I realize now that it was crucial in my survival as I was an immigrant coming from Korea, then Iran, eventually to Texas. Eventually, I utilized this form of communication to express myself as the most honest way to communicate. And of course! I wouldn't have been able to follow this path without my mother Kim Gay Ja's silent, but unrelenting support and encouragement!

Stephen | At the age of seventeen my sister lent me her very basic plastic film camera and the following year I returned from journeying around Africa and then Central America. I was laden with many Mexican hammocks that I had purchased from Merida prison in the Yucatan of Mexico. They were the best in the world and I sold them from an olive grove in Corfu, Greece. One day I photographed a black and white photo of my shoes sitting on a rock in the sea. This may have been about 1977. I set up a darkroom when I was eighteen, studied Photography and Film at Art school in Bournemouth when I was nineteen, graduated when I was twenty two. At age 24, I received my Masters Degree from the San Francisco Art Institute. So five years study of Photography and Film inspired me to continue.

While in San Francisco I exhibited my works and most importantly served my teaching internship with Larry Sultan and my gallery internship at Camerawork. I was surrounded by some very brilliant Artists; painters, sculptors, film makers, photographers, video and performance makers and Artists of all genres under the one umbrella of Art. During the early 1980’s I was freelance portrait photographer for several of the then leading UK International Magazines and titles and created my exhibitions in the Central and South London galleries and local venues. From 1986 I created new works in Sri Lanka and made several books and went on to exhibit this widely both in Sri Lanka and internationally. The works have been published and reviewed through press, radio, tv and film. During the 1990’s I lectured and conducted workshops at the Arts Institute Bournemouth, University of Wales and the Royal College of Art. In 2013 a large retrospective exhibition of my work was held at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS.

Q | TO WHAT EXTENT DO YOU BELIEVE ART HELPS WITH CATHARSIS AND HEALING?

Duk Ju L. Kim | I believe in it 1000+%. It's been proven over and over again that art and art therapy (in all forms, music, poetry, etc.) is very effective in the treatment of children, young adults, and adults in healing - life's traumas, health, those diagnosed with PTSD and people born with disabilities. I've actually volunteered numerous times to organizations that pander to those causes. It's actually about accessibility. But we all know that the poor suffer the most.

Stephen | Art expression enables the sharing of dreams, feelings and ideas. It is applied in many different forms and has been part of nature’s design for all time. Whether it be connection with Sound, Image or Word, often there is a conversation with all three.

Q | THE EXHIBITION IS BRINGING TOGETHER AN EMINENT GROUP OF ARTISTS FROM SRI LANKA AND OVERSEAS FOR A NOBLE CAUSE. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL OF THIS EXHIBITION SPURRING NEWER COLLABORATIONS AND ARTISTIC PRAXIS?

Duk Ju L. Kim | I'm all for reaching out through the boundaries: physical, social, and international!

Stephen | During this restrictive time of 2021, the online image and sharing of ideas have become avenues of conversation and they serve to encourage many different ways to see and listen. Through the expansion of innovative communication techniques, the sharing of works becomes helpful in creating forums of thoughtful debate and fundraising for useful projects, in this environment of uncertainty it makes it all the more poignant. However, the tactile and social collisions of the live exhibition remain close to me, as does my craft; that of analogue film photography; darkrooms of magic and the beauty of chance, mistakes, mishaps and all; there was less control in analogue and room for chaos.

Q | WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON/WORKED ON FOR ‘TONIGHT NO POETRY WILL SERVE’ AND HOW DO YOU PERCEIVE IT PLAYING A ROLE IN CONTRIBUTING TO THE FRAMEWORK SET?

Stephen | Recently I have been creating two new books; ‘Lanka Portrait’ and ‘Lanka Colours of Change’, to be published by myself at ‘Champion Lane’.  I am hoping to print these in the next year and thereon to participate in more international exhibitions, talks and forums. The photographs for ‘Tonight no poetry served’, are chosen from these collections.

Duk Ju L. Kim | I'm participating because the children who are ailing need help.

Q | WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE CONTEMPORARY ART SCENE IN SRI LANKA AND HOW DO YOU BELIEVE IT CAN EVOLVE?

Duk Ju L. Kim | It would be lovely if we can all continue a relationship that goes beyond socialpolitical issues, language, and boundaries. Throughout history, it was/is music, writings, visual arts that were (and are) able to connect people globally.

Stephen | Sri Lankan Art has always been interesting and vibrant. I try to observe the best I can from where I am and follow those whom I love and those who are finding their ways. Around the country there are some great Artists representing a diverse community. There are still far too few avenues of expression for these many Artists and few opportunities that are worthy.The resulting ‘competition’ often divides us. I wish for artistic perception to grow in a richer and more balanced arena.

The artists Duk Ju L. Kim and Stephen Champion, themselves, are familiar with the landscape of trauma and pain, the intricate and delicate nuances of chaos and turbulence grappling with comfort and peace through physical landscapes and the geography of one’s subconscious settings. Stephen Champion has been a frequent visitor to this tropical island of Sri Lanka and through each visit, he documents the changing, shifting topographies from war strewn lands to post-war communities. His book of photographs, ‘Lanka War Stories’ is one that captures most intriguingly the nuances of suffering and distress.

Duk Ju L. Kim – Linda – creates works of art from memory of childhood panoramas and experiences, landscapes that she observes are not picture perfect in perception or construction. Cities lie in ruins, layers of psychological and architectural history pile up. Human figures take on the structure of buildings, or appear amidst rubble.  Deeply influenced by her adopted city and a resident of Chicago for over 20 years, the hard lines of the city’s skyscrapers, the rigid street grid system, the viaducts and lines of segregation between neighborhoods—all are ubiquitous in her work, along with exposed pipes, plumbing, and wires. Despite her fascination with the physical landscape, Kim’s paintings are not devoid of life or humanity, and her work is imbued with a deep sense of humor and often dark irony. Ultimately, Kim’s principal preoccupation is with the human psyche and the complex way individuals interact with society and the psychological, social world they construct. Each artist, from photography to painting narrate stories from personal experiences and experiences witnessed.

Our conversation with Duk Ju L. Kim and Stephen Champion are insightful in its capacity to understand the framework of the interlinking between one’s pain and the coping mechanisms provided through the applications of artistic mediums. Thus comprehending the significance of art in allowing for these healing processes and ultimately, its vital and critical importance in facilitating these modems of expression in therapy for cancer patients and thereby the means through which Cancerfund-Galle exhibition is conceived.  

Image courtsey : http://www.zggallery.com/kim.htm

26th June, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings

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