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Artist Soni Kum to share stories of North Korean defectors

Artist Soni Kum joins the East Asia Program (EAP) of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies on April 2 at 10:00 a.m. to discuss her latest installation work, Morning Dew: The Stigma of Being “Brainwashed.”

The panel will highlight the images, stories and silences of stigmatized North Korean “ex-returnees” – ethnic Koreans in Japan, called “Zainichi Koreans,” who repatriated to North Korea after the Korean War, but ultimately fled to Japan.

Kum is a third-generation Zainichi Korean who was born and raised in Tokyo. She works across a variety of media, including film and video, installation, performance, writing, photography, drawing and dance.

In Morning Dew, three large screens sit side by side, each depicting archival images, text and silences to evoke the hidden stories of the Zainichi Koreans. In a segment called “Brides March,” the left and right screens show the Paektu Mountains and Heaven Lake, while the middle screen shows a Korean bride wearing a traditional bridal costume. These scenes capture the stories of those who struggled with difficult interracial marriages during the North Korean famine.

“Japanese wives who immigrated to North Korea have become a hot topic in the media, but rarely are their real voices conveyed, such as how they actually emigrated to North Korea and what they felt about their lives there,” says Kum.

Morning Dew embraces storytelling to share the past, look closely at how it shapes the present, and reclaim the narrative for the future. In her talk, Kum will weave these stories together and place them into a broader postcolonial context.

Professor emerita in Asian studies Brett de Bary and Rebecca Jennison, an art critic based in Kyoto, will join Kum for a panel discussion after her presentation.

This EAP event is co-sponsored by the Central New York Humanities Corridor with support from an award by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Cornell’s Migrations initiative, and the Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Megan DeMint is a communications specialist for Global Cornell.

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