During her recent stint as artist-in-residence at Chinatown 41 Ross Gallery, Heesoo Kwon wanted to do what she could for the people of Chinatown.
“I wanted to think about how to support the community and the economy there,” she told 48hills. “People were hurting during the pandemic, so I wanted to bring some positive energy to the neighborhood.”
Her work was noticed by the team at Kearny Street Workshop, who invited Kwon to be one of the featured artists at the organization’s APAture multi-disciplinary arts festival, which runs from Saturday 8th to 30th October. The theme of its 50th anniversary celebration is “self-reliance,” a core tenet at Kearny Street, which is one of the nation’s oldest Asia-Pacific American arts organizations.
The festival seems to be a perfect fit for Kwon, who has interviewed residents and small business owners as part of his work with 41 Ross, touching on topics of neighborhood life and immigration. She archived their stories and made 3D models of businesses in the neighborhood. Another part of her residency, which ran from March to June this year, was to hold pop-up exhibitions in the gallery, such as one for people from the Korean diaspora.
“I invited friends and the new friends I had met during the residency,” Kwon said. “We celebrated their art and cooked Korean dishes. We had tattoo artists, because tattoos are related to my work. I use morph or molt to become new bodies for my 3d avatars of my ancestors.
Kwon has a remarkable background. She won the Korean Intellectual Property Office’s “Female Inventor of the Year” award in 2012, graduated with a business degree in 2015 from a women’s university in Seoul, and currently works as an artist-curator. at the Chinese Cultural Center. She says she started making art in an effort to shake off a patriarchal and misogynistic society, earning her MFA from the University of California, Berkeley in 2019. Her work has been exhibited at both the national and international level. She even started her own feminist religion, which she dubbed Leymusoom.
Delaney Chieyen Holton, a PhD student in art history at Stanford, thinks Kwon’s work fits the idea of autonomy. Holton is a member of KSW’s General Planning Committee and sits on the Visual Arts and Film Committees for the festival. They heard about Kwon’s work from other members of the planning committee and went to see Kwon’s exhibition which is currently at the re.riddle gallery, “Mago Leymusoom” (the inspiration for the exhibition is described in press materials as “where the investigation of ancestral healing, queer bodies and the metaverse converge”).
“Leymusoom, his religious and spiritual practice, is in line with our theme,” Holton said. “I see it as a way to gain control and rework past lives and memories.”
For the APAture festival, a video by Kwon that featured in the Chinese Cultural Center’s 2021 exhibition “WOMEN我們: From Her to Here” will be on display at the Arc Gallery.
Holton says this piece, called “Leymusoom Bridge,” works with another KSW principle: abundance.
“That resonates, thinking about the Heesoo video,” Holton said. “There’s this heartbeat sound, and it’s oddly comforting. It’s very welcoming work.
Holton said she knew of KSW’s long-standing reputation, which she wanted to be a part of. She says working with APAture has been a great experience and she plans to stay involved with the organization.
Another enthusiastic member of the KSW community, poet and dancer Dawn Angelicca Barcelona, was also part of the APature planning committee. She subscribed to the group’s newsletter and saw that Kearny Street Workshop was looking for volunteers for a community reading. She signed up and continued to be involved in the 2021 and 2022 editions of APature.
“I could tell they had it all together,” she said. “I enjoyed the experience and it contributed to the isolation during the pandemic. We met every other Sunday for a few months, then once a week when it got closer. We really bonded.
This year’s featured artists at the festival include Kwon, Christine No in literary arts, Rocky G in music and Pallavi Somusetty in film.
grazing runs from Saturday 8th to 30th October. Various locations, SF. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the Arc Gallery are free. Tickets and more information here.