Spotlight: Art and Exhibitions at the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago

Spotlight: Art and Exhibitions at the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago

Korean Cultural Center of Chicago gallery and art

Many of our Core Members are doing extraordinary things to share their cultural heritage through innovative exhibitions. The Korean Cultural Center of Chicago (KCCoC) is a great example, with a new exhibition showcasing art from Korean and Korean-American artists nearly every month! Their efforts were recognized with a 2021 Illinois Association of Museum Award of Excellence.

VIsiting the korean cultural center of chicago gallery

Their emphasis on using their Museum and Visual Arts Program to share both traditional Korean culture and contemporary artists was evident when our Collaborative Programs Coordinator Abby Foss visited the KCCoC recently. Abby visited the gallery in May to view the exhibition “Gyeol” by textile artist Hyelim Kim. Kim designed an avant garde collection created with both modern and traditional Korean textiles and techniques. Abby was lucky enough to meet with the artist herself, and to tour the gallery with the KCCoC’s Executive Director, Kay Kihwa Rho.

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Hyelim Kim, Abby Foss, and Kay Kihwa Rho at Kim’s show “Gyeol.” Photo courtesy of Abby Foss.

Kim utilized a sewing technique, Kkaekki, which is a traditional style of seaming created for the Korean Hanbok, where fabric pieces are cut and pieced together in a way that resulted in beautifully thin and flat seams running throughout all of the garments. “As I walked around the space, the avant garde cuts, colors, and lines created by the Kkaekki technique gave a sense of movement, and the colors themselves shifted slightly as the light caught the different layers within the garments,” Abby said. “My favorite piece was a yellow and purple garment that Hyelim Kim explained had been inspired by the sunset.”

Learning More about the Korean cultural center of chicago’s visual arts program

Inspired by Abby’s visit to the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago’s museum and gallery, I wanted to learn more about how they curate their constantly changing exhibitions. I spoke with Gay-Young Cho, the Director of the Museum and Visual Arts Program at the KCCoC to learn more about the thought process behind their exhibitions and what is so unique about their program.

What is your professional background? How did you come to work for the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago?

My professional background is social psychology, specializing in organizational behavior. However, I have been involved with the art world for over 30 years as an art collector and as a volunteer in various capacities in numerous art institutions. I am a founding member of the Asian Art Council at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, and was Vice President and Chair of Programming of the Asian Art Council Board at the Art Institute of Chicago. I serve on the Collections Committee of the Field Museum of Chicago. I assumed the role of the Director of Museum at the KCCoC as a volunteer.

director of korean cultural center of chicago museum

Image courtesy of Gay-Young Cho

What kinds of artists do you work with or what kind of art do you look for when you are making your curatorial decisions?

One of the goals of our exhibition program is to promote Korean American artists, thereby we give preference to the Korean American artists working in the Midwest. The foremost criterion we are looking for in our exhibitions is excellence. But another criteria is the subject matter or the use of the material that relates to Korean culture, both traditional or contemporary.

 

Do you have a favorite exhibition that you worked on recently? If so, can you tell me what was special about it?

The exhibition, “FOUNDATION; Chosuk,” which was held on March 5, 2022. It was a group show of eight emerging Korean American artists who are recent graduates of the School of Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), curated by Dabin Ahn. “Chosuk” is the foundation stone that was widely used in Korean traditional architecture providing structural support for buildings ranging from small Hanok houses to the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Bringing together a group of emerging artists, FOUNDATION showcased how each artist structures their practice by employing Culture, Longing, Color, Identity, Process, Memory and Site-specificity as its foundation. There was some fabulous cutting edge art represented in the exhibition!

gallery show at Korean Cultural Center of chicago

Guests view the artwork at the “FOUNDATION; Chosuk” exhibition. Photo courtesy of the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago

What do you want people to know about the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago, its museum, and its visual arts program?

Our museum and its visual arts program is “the little engine that could!” As a small museum, we have limited resources; we work with a very small budget and limited staff. The available budget does not match our ambition. Despite this, with our excellent exhibitions we are beginning to make our presence known both in the Korean community and the Chicago metropolitan area.

We also have an interesting collection of Korean cultural artifacts and arts in our museum, including a mock Korean traditional wedding set.

Anyone can rent the Korean wedding set and traditional Korean dresses for their own wedding.

 

Can you tell me about the Harry Ahn show happening now? What is special about this show? Why would you recommend people come to see it?

When I made a visit to Harry Ahn’s studio, I was quite stunned and moved by his paintings of homeless people. Not only is Harry an amazing and accomplished portrait artist, but in his rendering of the homeless, we are called to recognize the worth and dignity of every human being, knowing that each has untold stories behind their homelessness. When asked why he focused his art on homeless people, Harry explains:

“A homeless wanderer on the street is an endless subject. I want to make people think about the many different ways ordinary people end up on the street. An artist can transform this outcast into a human being worthy of dignity and respect. I was that same homeless wanderer during the desolation right after the Korean War.“

harry ahn show at Korean Cultural Center of Chicago

A guest contemplates a painting by Harry Ahn. Photo courtesy of the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago

Ahn’s affinity for people who are struggling came from his own experiences as a refugee in Korea. He was born in North Korea, and was a young teen when the Korean War forced his family to flee to South Korea, leaving them destitute and homeless. In his art, the viewer can see that his remembrance of his refugee childhood has infused his art with both compassion and spirituality, and Harry seeks out the basic human value of each individual.

The exhibition, “I am not worthless, just homeless,” opened on June 3rd and will be showing through June 30th. The viewers will be moved to see what Harry saw in these homeless people.

 

Finally, what do you have coming up soon?

We are taking a summer break to focus on upgrading our collections and inventory system; we recently installed new collections management software, and are in the process of revamping our system to make our collections and exhibitions widely accessible online.

We are planning an exhibition, “Earthly Eloquence: Korean Contemporary ceramics.” This exhibition will be timed to coincide with the opening celebration of the Bisch Hall Performing Arts Theater, to be completed next year.

Another future exhibition we are exploring is art made with “hanji”, Korean paper.

Harry Ahn’s “I am not worthless, just homeless,” will be showing through June 30th at the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago Gallery, 9930 Capitol Dr, Wheeling, IL, 60090.


 

Special thanks to Gay-Young Cho, Kay Kihwa Rho, and Abby Foss for their help with this article. Image used in header is courtesy of the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago.

Marie Rowley, Marketing and Communications Manager

Celebrate the Meaning and Art of Ukrainian Pysanky

Celebrate the Meaning and Art of Ukrainian Pysanky

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Recently, I joined a workshop on the art of Ukrainian pysanky hosted by the Ukrainian National Museum, a Core Member of the Chicago Cultural Alliance. At the workshop, every participant created their own pysanka, a traditional Ukrainian Easter egg. Afterwards, I spoke with the workshop’s host, Anna Chychula, about this traditional art form from Ukraine. She also shared with me the story of a special “Resilience Pysanka” that she created in partnership with the Chicago Cultural Alliance, the Field Museum, and the Ukrainian National Museum.

The Meaning and Art of Ukrainian Pysanky

A pysanka (plural: pysanky) is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a wax-resist (batik) method, according to Chychula. The name comes from the verb pysaty or “to write,” because the designs are “written” on the egg with beeswax using a tool called a kystka. The raw eggs are colored with dyes, and the wax is melted away, leaving vibrant, intricate patterns. At the end, each egg is carefully hollowed out and preserved, making them delicate, beautiful talismans.

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An artist writing a pysanka with a kystka. Photo from Canva.

Many legends and traditions surround the pysanky. Anna explains that one common belief is that with every pysanka created, a link is added to a great chain that binds evil (in the form of a great dragon) and helps prevent it from wreaking havoc on the world. Therefore, the pysanka is a powerful symbol of hope and renewal.

Sharing the Art of Ukrainian Pysanky

Anna teaches workshops and shares her art online. She explains that she learned the art of Ukrainian pysanky from her mother as a child. “It’s just a part of my culture,” she explains. “But then in high school it became more about showing off my talents, and I started to do it more and more.”

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Anna helps prepare students’ pysanky at a workshop at the Ukrainian National Museum in April 2022. Photo by Marie Rowley

Now she sees it as a vital way to share her Ukrainian culture. Every workshop is taught “as a mini-immersion into Ukrainian culture,” she explains, not just a crafting how-to. “My pysanky are my ambassadors,” she says. “People come to admire them and then I can ask, ‘What are your Easter traditions?’ I get to connect with people at that level, and talk about the things that unite us.”

The Origin of the Resilience Pysanka

In 2020, the Field Museum partnered with many cultural organizations in Chicago, including the Chicago Cultural Alliance, to begin an effort called the Pandemic Collection. The Pandemic Collection is “an ongoing project to document the ways that COVID-19 is transforming our relationships to one another, to our homes and landscapes, to the ways we care for ourselves and others, to powers that are greater than us, and to new powers that pandemic living has let us access.” 

When the Alliance reached out to Lydia Tkaczuk, the director of the Ukrainian National Museum, about participating in the project, she knew they wanted to do something a little different. The pysanka, a symbol of renewal and hope, became an obvious choice for their contribution to the collection. She contacted Anna about designing a special Resilience Pysanka for the Pandemic Collection.

The Design and Symbolism of the Resilience Pysanka

Drawing on her decades of experience sharing the art of Ukrainian pysanky, Anna began by carefully planning out a design that was steeped in meaning and symbolism.

One element she chose was 40 triangles. In traditional Ukrainian pysanky design, a prayer for protection is said with each triangle written on the egg, and 40 is a sacred number. Anna also incorporated the design element of the Berehynia, or mother goddess. Like nature itself, she can be positive or negative, making this symbol particularly resonant in 2020.

(Image on left: One of Anna’s sketches, planning the design of the Resilience Pysanka. Courtesy of Anna Chychula.)

Anna also chose the colors for the Resilience Pysanka with care. Every color in a traditional Ukrainian pysanka has meaning, and this one was no different. White symbolizes purity, yellow represents wisdom, and so on. Anna explains that she did not use any black in the pysanka, because she wanted all the colors to represent only positive emotions and resilience.

The progression of colors in the Resilience Pysanka from lightest to darkest, as Anna created it. Courtesy of Anna Chychula.

Anna also chose the colors for the Resilience Pysanka with care. Every color in a traditional Ukrainian pysanka has meaning, and this one was no different. White symbolizes purity, yellow represents wisdom, and so on. Anna explains that she did not use any black in the pysanka, because she wanted all the colors to represent only positive emotions and resilience.

In the end, Anna created two pysanky in this design, with nearly identical colors. One was donated to the Field Museum’s Pandemic Collection, and the other remains in the Ukrainian National Museum.

(Image on left: The finished Resilience Pysanka, on a hollow 3 ⅞ inch goose egg. Courtesy of Anna Chychula.)

The Resilience Pysanka Takes on New Meaning

In February 2022, Anna and the staff of the Ukrainian National Museum were invited to the Field Museum to view the Resilience Pysanka on display in the main exhibition hall. The day before their visit, Russia invaded Ukraine. 

Lydia Tkaczuk (Ukrainian National Museum Director), Maria Klimchak (Ukranian National Museum Curator), and Anna Chychula at the Field Museum. Courtesy of Anna Chychula

“It was surreal,” Anna says. “Very poignant and moving, but surreal.” When planning the pysanka two years ago for the Pandemic Collections project, she knew other artists were making designs that referenced COVID directly. “I didn’t want to put a mask design on the pysanka though,” she explains. “I was digging deeper, thinking about the meaning of resilience. So now it’s like it happened just like it was supposed to. It speaks for the resilience of Ukraine in this different way. It symbolizes that we will prevail, we will find a way through.”

Very special thanks to Anna Chychula for sharing her story and her beautiful art and culture with me. 

Marie Rowley, Marketing and Communications Manager

Get Ready for Activating Heritage 2022!

Get Ready for Activating Heritage 2022!

Our annual Activating Heritage conference for arts and culture professionals is starting soon, March 21-25. We’re excited to share with you everything we’ve got in store this year. Read below to learn a little more about Activating Heritage. We hope you’ll join us!

What Is the Activating Heritage conference?

Activating Heritage is an annual conference developed and delivered by the Alliance, in cooperation with Partners and Core Members. The conference connects our Members and other arts & culture workers from across the Chicago region with meaningful, capacity-building presentations and workshops facilitated by a host of scholars and leaders in the field. By reviewing best practices in financial management, marketing and communications, grant writing, collections practices, and other topics, the Alliance strengthens our members’ capacity to fulfill their significant and unique missions.

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Guests at a past Activating Heritage.

What can we expect from this year’s Activating Heritage?

The conference theme this year is “The Stories We Tell.” Sessions on topics from budgeting to oral history management will all connect back to the power of narratives and storytelling.

The first day’s events on Monday, March 21 will take place in-person at DANK Haus German American Cultural Center. We’ll kick off with a Plenary Session panel with Emmy-winning reporter Adriana Cardona-Maguigad and Media Burn Executive Director Sarah Chapman in discussion on the power of narratives, moderated by award-winning storyteller Ada Cheng. We’ll follow that with a presentation of the Alliance’s Outstanding Community Award Leader nominations. Then a Networking Brunch will start at 12pm, with food from Blue Sky Bakery.

All sessions from Tuesday through Friday will be hosted online, available to join live via Zoom or to watch via a secure livestream. We have a wide range of speakers lined up to share their insights and expertise, including:

  • Christena Gunther, Founder and President, Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium
  • Carlos Hevia, Director of Business Development, Multilingual Connections
  • Latham Zearfoss, Cultural Liaison for the Cultural Asset Mapping Project
  • And lots more

Who should come to Activating Heritage?

Museum workers, curators, artists, educators, nonprofit professionals, humanities students, historians, cultural heritage workers. Anyone who loves culture and believes it is worth preserving and sharing may find the conference valuable and is welcome to attend!

Sounds great! Where do I register?

Hooray! We’ll see you there! 

Register online at ActivatingHeritage.org or click the button below. General Registration is $35, Partner Members are $25, Core Members are $20, and Students are $12.

The Chicago Cultural Alliance is committed to economic equity and inclusion. If you are in need of financial support for admission expenses, please email [email protected]

We’re proud of the conference lineup we’ve prepared for you this year and hope to see you there. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions!

Marie Rowley, Marketing and Communications Manager

Monique Brinkman-Hill – Executive Director of the South Side Community Art Center

Monique Brinkman-Hill – Executive Director of the South Side Community Art Center

Have you met Monique?

If not, let us do the honor of introducing you to Monique Brinkman-Hill, who was appointed as South Side Community Art Center’s Executive Director in December 2019. Having to take over just before the start of 2020 and all the twists and turns it had in store, Monique and her team have worked hard to support their organization in its 80th year.

Do you want to hear about what it’s like to serve as a relatively new executive director during a pandemic and learn more about the South Side Community Art Center?

Listen (and/or watch) Monique’s interview with the Alliance’s own new executive director, Peter Vega, in this episode of Cultural Connections!

MOSAIC 2020 Outstanding Cultural Leader – Kathleen McDonald

MOSAIC 2020 Outstanding Cultural Leader – Kathleen McDonald

If you find yourself wondering how people end up working in their field or what it is like to work at a museum, this episode of Cultural Connections is perfect for you! 

Join Executive Director Peter Vega and Kathleen McDonald as they discuss their experiences in the arts/humanities. Kathleen has been active in the world of arts and humanities since her college years (even though it wasn’t her original plan!) and worked her way up the ranks in museums.

Maybe this episode will inspire you or someone you know to get involved at a local museum or heritage center!

We are a month into our Cultural Connections Campaign and we want to thank you for tuning in every week to listen to our members and supporters discuss topics on cultural diversity, inclusion, and equity. So far we have raised a total of $15,000 towards our goal of $50,000. We know we can hit that goal, but we need your help.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to connect, promote, and support centers of cultural heritage for a more inclusive Chicago.

We simply could not do this without you.

Our #GivingTuesday Roundtable is officially LIVE!

Our #GivingTuesday Roundtable is officially LIVE!

Our Giving Tuesday Roundtable is now LIVE! Featuring 

Moderated by WBEZ’s Steve Bynum!

Check out the video above to watch our members discuss the hardships cultural heritage centers have faced in this challenging year and how they are working to keep their organization afloat. 

Don’t forget we need your help as we raise $5,000 to get us towards our goal of $50,000. All donations help fund our unique cross-cultural collaborations such as this Roundtable, and capacity building programs like our Activating Heritage Conference. Giving Tuesday is the year’s biggest donation celebration, and it starts right now! 

Rather listen? Check us out on SpotifyStitcher or anywhere you get your podcasts!

The Chicago Cultural Alliance’s Board of Directors pledged to match dollar for dollar donations up to $5,000 until Giving Tuesday on December 1st. Your gift makes double the impact when you support the Chicago Cultural Alliance today.