North-South Declaration of Partnership: Standing before the Unification Flag, 2022. Vinyl print, 103 x 150.35 in.
Mina Cheon (Kim Il Soon), Art History Lessons by Professor Kim, 2017. Still from “Lesson 5: Feminism, Are We Equal? Art History Lesson videos sent to North Korea.” Courtesy of Mina Cheon Studio.
Mina Cheon (Kim Il Soon), Umma Rises: Towards Global Peace, 2017. Custom IKB blue dip painting on archival digital print on canvas, 30 x 40 in. Courtesy of Mina Cheon Studio.
Mina Cheon (Kim Il Soon), Dreaming Unification: Oori (우리) Protest for Peace, 2019-2020. Custom IKB blue paint, stencil, spray paint, sumi ink on canvas (diptych), 80 x 60 inches. Courtesy of Mina Cheon Studio. Photo: Cyrus Feldman.
Anonymous North Korean painter, North-South Declaration of Partnership: Standing before the Unification Flag, 2019. Oil on canvas, 23 x 33 in. Image courtesy of Mina Cheon Studio. Translation: “We, people(s) must stand in our confirmed stance with respect and sincerity towards declaring partnership.”
Artist Mina Cheon releases only black and white photos of her North Korean art collection so that visitors can see it in color in person.
South Korean new media artist Mina Cheon works for Korean unification with her North Korean alter ego counterpart, Kim Il Soon, through “asynchronous communication.” Crossing borders by sending and receiving art between North and South Korea, the artist brings the remnants of her global activism by sharing the recent works from the Inaugural Asia Society Triennial and The Korea Society in New York, respectively, between 2020 and 2021, as a comprehensive solo show for the Alper Initiative for Washington Art at the American University Museum in Washington, DC. The guiding exhibition text, “The History of a Paradoxical Incorporation,” by critical theorist Avital Ronell contextualizes the haunted Koreas and the artists' protest for peace.
“Cheon breaks into forbidden territory, a no man’s land—certainly a no-woman’s land—of contested sovereignty. She slips into No. Korean territory, and recedes back to So. Korean haunts in camouflage, be it as a secretive convoy of art historical teaching or in roguish disguise, as one of “them.” Thus her deliberate misappropriations of propagandistic iconography sometimes simulate adherence to an opponent’s claims, switching up cues of politically coded assumptions and the righteous bullet points of human rights advocacy. The work attracts a riot of controversy that secretly targets the heart of a dilemma, an ambivalence shared by many who cannot choose sides, yet must choose sides, living in the tensional structure of division, asymmetrically apportioned.”
— Avital Ronell
The exhibition was made possible with the 2021 AHL – Andrew & Barbara Choi Family Foundation Grant Award. With great thanks to the Ethan Cohen Gallery, Waterfall Mansion and Gallery, The Korea Society, and Asia Society Museum of New York for supporting the artist in the works displayed in the exhibition. And a special thank you to the courageous North Korean defectors around the world and in South Korea.
Artist & Philosopher Bios
Mina Cheon (천민정) (b. 1973, Seoul, South Korea; lives and works in Baltimore, New York, and Seoul)
Mina Cheon is a new media artist, scholar, educator, and activist best known for her “Polipop” paintings inspired by pop art and social realism. Cheon’s practice draws inspiration from the partition of the Korean Peninsula, exemplified by her parallel body of work created under her North Korean alter ego, Kim Il Soon, in which she enlists a range of mediums, including painting, sculpture, video, installation, and performance to deconstruct and reconcile the precarious history — and ongoing coexistence — between North and South Korea. She has exhibited internationally, including at the Inaugural Asia Society Triennial (2020-2021); Busan Biennale (2018); Baltimore Museum of Art (2018); American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, DC (2014); Sungkok Art Museum, Seoul (2012); and Insa Art Space, Seoul (2005). Her work is in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton; and Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul. Mina Cheon’s solo exhibitions include those at the Ethan Cohen Gallery (2014, 2017-18, 2020-2021), the Lance Fung Gallery (2002), and The Korea Society (2021) in New York; the Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton University in New Jersey (2018); the Trunk Gallery (2014), Sungkok Art Museum (2012), and Insa Art Space (2004-5) in Seoul, Korea; and the Maryland Art Place (2012) and C. Grimaldis Gallery (2008) in Baltimore. Currently an Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Cheon has been a full-time professor at MICA since 2004. Under the guidance of dissertation advisor Avital Ronell, she received her PhD in Philosophy of Media and Communications from the European Graduate School, European University for Interdisciplinary Studies, Switzerland, and adapted her dissertation into a book, Shamanism + Cyberspace (Dresden and New York: Atropos Press, 2009). She also received her MFA in Imaging Digital Arts from UMBC: An Honors University in Maryland; an MFA from the Hoffberger School of Painting, MICA; and a BFA in painting from Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea.
A recipient of numerous prizes, Avital Ronell is University Professor of the Humanities at New York University, and teaches philosophy and media at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. She has delivered lecture performances at the Centre Pompidou and the Théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris, and at Hau3 in Berlin. Recent works include Complaint: Grievance among Friends (University of Illinois Press, 2018) and Burnout der Autorität (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, translator Peter Trawny, 2020), "An Addictionary of Violence" (Counterpunch), “The Gestell from Hell” (The Oxford Literary Review), “The Next Level: Erasures and Rollbacks” (Modern Language Notes), and the "Survival Kit for the Anguished" podcast series from Philomonaco’s “Rencontres philosophiques.”