Hye Yeon Nam
About the Artist
“I hope my audience finds connections between my work and their lives,” writes Hye Yeon Nam (born 1979). This young Korean artist, a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology with an MFA in digital media from the Rhode Island School of Design, uses her artwork to address issues of personal and societal concern. Keenly aware of distinctions in expectations for the appropriate behavior for women in her native land and the United States, Nam has created a body of work that addresses feelings of awkwardness with subtlety and humor.
Her four-part video self-portrait—Walking, Drinking, Eating, and Sitting—transforms everyday activities into sites of confusion. A hole in a glass continually spills orange juice. Large planks strapped to the artist’s feet make walking uncomfortable and challenging. Tomatoes slide off a ruler used as a utensil. A chair with shortened front legs causes the artist to slide forward, slipping off her perch. No resolution is offered, and the artist invites empathy and even sympathy for the physical and psychic struggles she evokes.
With her patient and resolute response to the difficult situations she encounters, Nam provides a reminder that “fitting in” requires consistent negotiation between the self and perceived expectations—a challenge to which we can all relate.
My work explores social issues based on personal experience. As a woman and a Korean immigrant in the United States, I have struggled to adjust to my new culture. Every situation summons different customs, requiring me to adopt unfamiliar behaviors in order to conform to expectations. My work reflects my desire to resist such pressure by using physical dissonance to reveal different perspectives upon the “norm.”
Art is not meant to be merely decorative or beautiful; instead, it can be a question, an argument, a proposal, a resolution. By addressing the everyday challenges that beset us all, my work strives to encourage others to confront social concerns and constraints and to seek to surmount them.
Listen to an Interview with Hye Yeon Nam
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Interview by Jasmine Fernandez, The Sarah and Francis Sogi Smithsonian/Hawai'i Fellow, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, September 16, 2011.