Kyungah Ham

b. 1966 in Seoul, Korea
Working in Seoul, Korea
Showing at Asia Society Museum
On view October 27, 2020, through February 7, 2021
Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities DSK 04-D-05, 2016–17

Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities DSK 04-D-05, 2016–17. North Korean hand embroidery, silk threads on cotton, middle man, smuggling, bribe, tension, anxiety, censorship, ideology, wooden frame, approx. 1000 hrs/1 person. H. 50 x W. 34 1/4 in. (127 x 87 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery. Photograph by Chunho An

Location: Asia Society Museum
Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities DSK 04-D-05 (detail), 2016–17

Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities DSK 04-D-05 (detail), 2016–17. North Korean hand embroidery, silk threads on cotton, middle man, smuggling, bribe, tension, anxiety, censorship, ideology, wooden frame, approx. 1000 hrs/1 person. H. 50 x W. 34 1/4 in. (127 x 87 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery. Photograph by Chunho An

Location: Asia Society Museum
Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities DSK M 02-D-05~07, 2018–19

Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities DSK M 02-D-05~07, 2018–19. North Korean hand embroidery, silk threads on cotton, middle man, smuggling, bribe, tension, anxiety, censorship, ideology, wooden frame, approx. 1200 hrs/1 person (each panel). 3 panels, each: H. 59 1/2 x W. 41 3/8 in. (151 x 105 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery. Photograph by Chunho An

Location: Asia Society Museum
Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities DSK M 02-D-05 (detail), 2018–19

Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities DSK M 02-D-05 (detail), 2018–19. North Korean hand embroidery, silk threads on cotton, middle man, smuggling, bribe, tension, anxiety, censorship, ideology, wooden frame, approx. 1200 hrs/1 person (each panel). 3 panels, each: H. 59 1/2 x W. 41 3/8 in. (151 x 105 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery. Photograph by Chunho An

Location: Asia Society Museum
Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities BK 04-06, 2016–17

Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities BK 04-06, 2016–17. North Korean hand embroidery, silk threads on cotton, middle man, smuggling, bribe, tension, anxiety, censorship, ideology, wooden frame, approx. 2000 hrs/1 person. H. 100 3/8 x W. 70 1/2 in. (255 x 179 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery. Photograph by Chunho An

Location: Asia Society Museum
Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities BK 04 06 (detail), 2016–17

Kyungah Ham, What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities BK 04 06 (detail), 2016–17. North Korean hand embroidery, silk threads on cotton, middle man, smuggling, bribe, tension, anxiety, censorship, ideology, wooden frame, approx. 2000 hrs/1 person. H. 100 3/8 x W. 70 1/2 in. (255 x 179 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery. Photograph by Chunho An

Location: Asia Society Museum
Installation View of Phantom Footsteps

Kyungah Ham, Installation view of Phantom Footsteps, Kukje Gallery, Seoul, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery. Photograph by Keith Park

Kyungah Ham’s multifaceted practice is driven by an interest in mapping unseen power dynamics dictated by sociopolitical ideologies and subjective histories. She is best known for her embroidered canvases created in dialogue with anonymous North Korean artisans who convert Ham’s coded instructions into intricate embroideries, which are then smuggled back to the artist in South Korea to be integrated into the finished compositions. Ham’s provocatively collaborative works not only explore the societal impact of the partition of the Korean peninsula, but also the devastating consequences politically imposed borders have on societies. The artist received a BFA from Seoul National University in 1989 and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 1995. 


The selected embroideries included in the Asia Society Triennial are from the series What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities. This body of work was inspired by the historic decision made by foreign powers—namely China, England, Russia, and the United States—to formally separate North and South Korea after the Second World War when the country was under Japanese rule. The sumptuous crystal chandelier motif, evocative of the geopolitical power of the aforementioned countries, privilege, and desire, is depicted at various degrees of fragmentation until the form is completely obliterated. Ham’s disintegration of the image reflects on the dissolution of a culture while the thousands of individual stitches, the handiwork of unknown North Korean artisans, is an attempt to connect the common people whose lives continue to be dictated by the partition of the Korean peninsula.  


Supported by Korea Foundation


Supported in-kind by Kukje Gallery 

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