Dwelling In-Between: Korean Americans in the Bay Area

Conference/Symposium | October 21 | 2-6 p.m. |  David Brower Center

 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

 Rosemarie Nahm, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation; Laura Kang, UC Irvine; Myung Mi Kim, SUNY Buffalo; Linda Inson Choy, Independent Art Curator; Jung Ran Bae, Artist; Minji Sohn, Artist

 Laura Nelson, UC Berkeley; Elaine Kim, UC Berkeley; Mary-Ann Milford-Lutzker, Mills College; Stephanie Hanor, Mills College Art Museum

 Center for Korean Studies (CKS), Mills College Art Museum

Dwelling In-Between (사이에 머물다) will feature Korean American artists, writers, and scholars who will discuss the transnational connections of the Korean American experience. As bicultural, bilingual, and/or binational subjects, Korean Americans describe their identity as in-between “Korea” and the “West”, as both physical locations and diasporic imaginaries. This symposium will celebrate Korean American immigration histories and modes of cultural production, with particular focus on the Bay Area as a dynamic hub of Korean culture.


Opening Remarks
Laura C. Nelson, Chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Korean Studies

Part I: Writing Our History
Rosemarie Nahm, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
Laura Kang, UC Irvine
Myung Mi Kim, SUNY Buffalo

Moderated by Elaine Kim, UC Berkeley

Coffee Break

Part II: Art and Identity
Linda Inson Choy, independent curator
Jung Ran Bae, artist
Minji Sohn, artist

Moderated by Mary-Ann Milford-Lutzker, Mills College

Closing Remarks
Stephanie Hanor, Director of the Mills College Art Museum



Part I: Writing Our History

“Early Korean Pioneers and their San Francisco Beginnings”

Rosemarie Nahm will discuss the history of Korean Americans in San Francisco, which, unbeknownst to many, is at the heart of early Korean immigration history. The earliest group of Korean immigrants to the U.S. mainland consisted of contract laborers from Hawaiian sugar plantations who transmigrated to San Francisco in the early 1900s. Another 1,000 Koreans were admitted at the Angel Island Immigration Station in the San Francisco Bay, which served as the main port of entry for Asian immigrants from 1910 to 1940. This was the time of Japanese occupation of Korea, and many Koreans were fleeing the harsh realities of living under Japanese rule. Some of the most effective and lasting Korean American organizations were established in San Francisco during this early migration period, and many of the early community leaders coordinated their organizational strategies and advocacy work here. The discussion is intended to raise awareness about these deep local roots, with the hope that Korean Americans will be compelled to preserve and share this lesser-known history through individual and collective actions.

“Myung Mi Kim’s ‘From DURA’ and the Korean American Arts Festival (1994)”

Laura Kang will examine Myung Mi Kim’s three early poetry volumes, Under Flag, The Bounty, and Dura through the prism of the Korean American Arts Festival, a multi-media community event that was convened in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco in 1994. As part of the festival, Myung Mi Kim performed a public reading at the Luggage Store gallery, which featured a multi-artist visual arts show, and also published an excerpt from Dura in writing away here: an anthology of korean/american writings. In returning to this specific time-place of collective cultural enunciation, this talk attempts to historicize the shifting exigencies of “Korean American” identification and the irreducible poetics that baffle and defy its enclosure.

“Transl(i)tive Attentions”

Myung Mi Kim will read her poetry and reflect on the translingual imaginary.

Part II: Art and Identity

“Introducing In-Between Places: Korean American Artists in the Bay Area”

Linday Inson Choy will introduce the special exhibit In-Between Places: Korean American Artists in the Bay Area on view at the Mills College Art Museum through December 10, 2017. As the title indicates, the exhibition regards Korean American artists whose work in the exhibition addresses their own experiences as artists in the San Francisco Bay Area. The theme of the exhibition investigates Korean American identity and the individual interpretations expressed in their art. Common experiences the artists of this exhibition highlight include struggles with alienation and assimilation, languages barriers and racism, and existing within in-between places, not grounded in this or that place. This exhibition will show how Korean American artists identify themselves simultaneously as Koreans/Americans/Californians and that their work embraces a wide range of expression, including California landscapes and environments, cultural symbolism, and politically charged works that address current issues.

“What Identity?”

Jung Ran Bae will speak about her personal experiences of identity.

“A Ghost Story”

Minji Sohn will provide background into the systematic nature of her art-making through two different narratives of her personal life. The first is the fear of ghosts; her performances are based on repetition and endurance, and are formed from habits lasting from her childhood—checking for imaginary dangers in corners of the room, behind the curtains, and under the bed, and counting numbers as a ritual to chase the ghosts away. Alternatively, Sohn’s experience of growing up as a foreign student and a racial minority is presented as another force influencing the production of her artistic work and its obsessive quality. Through the particular case of studying abroad, she investigates the ways that the transnational power relationship between two countries may produce psychosocial effects on an individual. Drawing parallels between these two aspects, the ghost stands as a metaphor for social oppression and surveillance, and the larger sociopolitical structures that the individual may feel powerless over, while simultaneously standing for another reality in itself. Cho’s art creates aestheticized spaces playfully performed within the gray areas in-between two continents, real and imagined oppressions, cultural and gender identities, and right and wrong. Her endurance and labor are presented as formed of compliance and the refusal of dominant social structures at the same time.


Laura C. Nelson is Chair of the Center for Korean Studies, and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology at Stanford, and holds a Master’s in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley with a focus on housing and community economic development. Her current research focuses on breast cancer as a medical, cultural, personal, environmental, political, and transnational phenomenon, and the lives and social-presentation strategies of older women without children, both in South Korea. She is the author of Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea (Columbia University Press, 2000), which examine how institutions shaped consumer culture in pursuit of national goals in South Korea during the period of 1960 to 1997.

Rosemarie Nahm immigrated to the United States in 1972 and has been researching and writing about early Korean immigration history since 2011. She is an attorney and a board member of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF), a nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and raise awareness about Angel Island immigration history as well as all Pacific Coast immigration. She is passionate about the need to record and preserve immigration history for her American-born children and generations after them. She received a B.A. from Wellesley College and a J.D. from the UC Berkeley Law School.

Laura Kang is Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies, English and Comparative Literature at UC Irvine. She is the author of Traffic in Asian Women (2018) and Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women (2002). She is the editor of writing away here: an anthology of korean/american writings (1994) and echoes upon echoes: new korean/american writings (2003) co-edited with Elaine H. Kim.

Myung Mi Kim is a Korean American poet noted for her postmodern writings. Her books include Penury, Commons, DURA, and Under Flag, winner of the Multicultural Publisher’s Exchange Award. She has received fellowships and honors from the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative North American Poetry, and the Fund for Poetry. She holds the James H. McNulty Chair of English and serves as Director of the Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo.

Elaine H. Kim is Professor of the Graduate School and former Head of the Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies Department at UC Berkeley. She is widely published in her field. Some of her books include Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism (co-editor with Chungmoon Choi); Making More Waves: New Writings by Asian American Women (co-editor with Lilia V. Villanueva and Asian Women United of California); and East to America: Korean-American Life Stories (co-editor with Eui-Young Yu). She has also received numerous awards and is cofounder of the Asian Women United of California, the Oakland Korean Community Center, and the Asian Immigrant Women Advocates. She received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley.

Linda Inson Choy is an independent curator specializing in contemporary Korean art and culture. Her curatorial work includes The Offering Table: Women Activist Artists from Korea at Mills College Art Museum in 2008 along with a corresponding symposium entitled "Places at the Table" cosponsored with the UC Berkeley Center for Korean Studies, and most recently, In-Between Places: Korean American Artists in the Bay Area at Mills College Art Museum in 2017 along with this corresponding symposium. She previously worked as a curatorial assistant from 1996 to 2004 at the Asian Art Museum’s Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture and the Korean Art Department, where she held a major role in organizing several major exhibitions culminating in The Age of Enlightenment: Art of Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty in 2003. Choy was also the Curator in Residency at Incheon Art Platform in South Korea in spring 2011 and a research curator at Gyeonggi Creation Center in South Korea in fall 2011. She has presented papers and organized panels for numerous College Art Association conferences, with emphasis on Asian American women artists and their role in the context of greater art communities. She received her B.A. from Mills College and an M.A. from San Jose State University.

Jung Ran Bae was born in Seoul, South Korea. She has a background in creative writing and received an M.F.A. in ceramic sculpture from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco. After college, she continued to work on installation and performance projects at the Headlands Center for the Arts, California. Bae works primarily in large clay sculptures that often extend to large scale installations incorporating various media. Bae has exhibited at the Triton Museum and the Newport Art Museum in California, and numerous other galleries.

Minji Sohn is a Korean artist currently living and working in Jeju, South Korea. She was born in 1990 in Yokohama, Japan and raised in South Korea and Canada. She received her M.F.A. in Fine Arts from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco in 2015. The obsessive, repetitive nature of Sohn’s current performative work illustrates an attempt to control and the inherent failure existing within this attempt. Recent solo and group exhibitions include Again, and Again, and Again, Aggregate Space Gallery, Oakland; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… 100, 2291 Third Street, San Francisco; Green Pigment, Daejeon Eegong Gallery, Daejeon, South Korea; Present Tense 2015: Future Perfect, Chinese Cultural Center, San Francisco; and Bang!, Bass & Reiner Gallery, San Francisco.

Mary-Ann Milford-Lutzker, Professor of Asian Art History, holds the Carver Chair in East Asian Studies, and is Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Mills College. She received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. Her early work focused on classical Indian and Indonesian art for which she wrote on and curated exhibitions, including The Image of Women in Indian Art, and Myths and Symbols in Indonesian Art. Since the mid-90s, she has been working with women artists in India. In 1997, she curated Women Artists of India: A Celebration of Independence, an exhibition that was part of the Festival of India that celebrated India’s fifty years of independence from British colonial rule. In 2001, she curated the first retrospective of Zarina Hashmi’s art. She has written extensively on Indian women artists, and written and curated exhibitions of Asian American artists. In 2012, she was an NEH fellow at the Institute for Asian American Art at New York University. She is also a founding member of SACHI (Society for Art and Cultural Heritage of India) and serves on the Advisory Committee for the Society for Asian Art at the Asian Art Museum.

Stephanie Hanor has been the Assistant Dean and Director of the Mills College Art Museum since 2009. Prior to joining the Mills College Art Museum, she was the Senior Curator and Curatorial Department Head at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. During her 8 years at MCASD, she curated over 40 exhibitions and projects. At the Mills College Art Museum, she oversees an active contemporary exhibition program featuring new work by Binh Danh, Kathryn Spence, Frances Stark, Sarah Oppenheimer, and Karen Kilimnik. She received her Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Texas.


Linda Inson Choy, independent curator

Stephanie Hanor, Mills College Art Museum

Hyonjeong Kim Han, Asian Art Museum

Stephanie K. Kim, UC Berkeley Center for Korean Studies

Jayna Swartzman-Brosky, Mills College Art Museum

 cksassist@berkeley.edu, 510-643-9787