This study explored how three contemporary Korean "border-crossing" artists who live and work in New York City have conceptualized and constructed their artistic, personal, and social identities through their artwork. Do-Ho Suh, Kimsooja, and Ik-Joong Kang were studied using Anderson's (1993; 1995; 1997; Anderson & Milbrandt, 2005) cross-cultural method of contextual art criticism, incorporating document analysis and one-on-one interviews. The primary research question was, How do artists, originally from South Korea but now living in New York City, define themselves and their art in relation to their artistic, personal, and social identities? In addition, questions were explored concerning the impact of the dominant Western art community and the international art community in New York City on the creation of art and identity among these border-crossing artists.
Do-Ho Suh’s Paratrooper series was found to illuminate the interdependence of personal identity with national, cultural, and social identity and explore issues of individuality and group consciousness, displacement and transience, and social pressure. Kimsooja’s Cities on the Move- 2727 Kilometers Bottari Truck and the A Needle Woman series was seen as depicting memories and experiences from her own family life and Korean culture in interaction with multicultural communities and human life. Finally, Ik-Joong Kang’s 8490 Days of Memory was found to represent the intersection of Korean national history and diplomacy with his own childhood memories, and his Amazed World to portray the essential unity underlying the global multicultural context.
Each of the six selected artworks was found to be both a self-portrait and group portrait, signifying the human condition in contemporary society. Further, the artworks depict themes from Eastern philosophy and Western existentialism that simultaneously reflect the artists' original Korean culture, American multicultural ideology, and the personal challenge of "border-crossing" in the international art world. The results of this study can inform educational art criticism and instruction for audiences and art students in Korea, the U.S., and internationally, facilitating a sympathetic dialogue that promotes mutual understanding.