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Life and Work with Soyoung L Kim

Today we’d like to introduce you to Soyoung L Kim.

Soyoung, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
As most artists, I have been drawing and creating ever since I can remember. But making art became a much more meaningful part of my life when my parents uprooted our family from Seoul, South Korea, and moved us to Nairobi, Kenya when I was six years old. When I first started school in Nairobi, I am told that I did not speak for several months. During those months of silence, I drew and what I drew impressed my classmates. So, drawing became my primary medium of communication. Making art has always been with me, a necessary part of my existence, whether I was doing it professionally or not.

My parents did not want me to study art in college, so I pursued other studies, but during my senior year in college, I had to admit that I couldn’t NOT pursue some form of art. I went to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for an MFA in Creative Writing, taking writing and painting classes in the hopes of doing both.

Since my graduate school days, I have pursued both writing and making art in various forms, but in spurts. Raising my three daughters took up a large chunk of my time in my late 20s and 30s. With my girls getting older and more independent, I have been able to devote more time to my work. Last year, I collaborated with Fernadina Chan, a choreographer, on a residency through the Boston Center for the Arts. Fernadina created new dance pieces with my artworks as installations and set pieces. I have my first solo art exhibit coming up in February 2019 at Galatea Fine Art and I am working on a novel.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Anyone involved in the arts knows how difficult it is to get to a level where you are working professionally, but I think it is especially hard when you don’t have emotional support from your family. Because I didn’t have that when I was younger, it is harder to believe in myself sometimes. Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband and three girls who encourage me in my endeavors, so overcoming that mental obstacle has gotten easier.

My parents, like most immigrants, wanted their children to end up in fields of work that would provide stability. The arts, by nature, go against that. But, at the same time, even in the arts, dedication and hard work eventually get us somewhere. My parents did teach me to do whatever it is I pursue with courage and diligence.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with your work– tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud ofand what sets you apart from others.
I am fascinated by how emotions color the world around us. Our emotions shape how we see, perceive and remember the life and it is that process of reshaping reality that I explore in my work. Having been displaced early in life, I had to construct a world inside of myself that I could carry around with me every time I uprooted and moved. The created world portrayed in my work becomes a place where memory of the past, the feeling of the present moment, and the hopes and dreams of the future converge. My contact with my created world becomes stronger whenever I travel, so much of my work comes out of those moments of being in foreign places.

Perhaps, because I grew up watching children on the streets of Nairobi transforming metal cans into toy cars or rolling up plastic bags and twine into soccer balls, I am constantly drawn to transforming rejected materials into something new, whether it is transforming discarded stacks of manuscript paper into birds and teacups or transforming discarded moments into marks of color. And this is where I can truly bring my process of writing and my process of art making together – I create sculptures out of the pages of my manuscripts and mount them onto wooden panels that I have painted.

Who have you been inspired by?
One of my favorite visual artists is Wangechi Mutu. Her paintings and collages were inspirational to me when I was struggling to find my own voice as an artist. She creates art in various mediums. The qualities that I love about her works are that they are distinctively female and Kenyan.

I took Elizabeth Ockwell’s watercolor painting class in graduate school. She gave me permission to be myself and to trust what is inside of me. She was a remarkable teacher and I will never forget her. Her paintings are beautiful and inspiring as well.

As a woman, I will always turn to Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” for strength. Through this book, I have learned the importance of having a mental space and a physical space in order to make art. Virginia Woolf speaks specifically to women and our needs and the issues she grapples with in this book are as relevant today as they were in her time.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal photo – Amy Kanagaki, Art work photos – Will Howcroft, Tea cups photo – Jen Lucas, Selfie shots – Soyoung L Kim

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