Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

A Grand Citizen of the World: Eunah Kim, 1973-2010

Eunah Kim with her "Happy Lungs" flag, Cambridge, Mass., May, 2009.  Courtesy of Hyewon Yi
Eunah Kim with her "Happy Lungs" flag, Cambridge, Mass., May, 2009. Courtesy of Hyewon Yi

At the memorial service given on June 21st for Eunah Kim, I found a powerful upwelling of emotion in the talks and readings given in honor of her memory. I myself was not prepared for the deep feeling her short but exemplary life occasioned, but almost without my knowing it, she had reached me as a gifted person and sculptor. At once a practicing Buddhist (from 1998-2000 she was a nun novitiate at the Hwa Gye Sa Buddhist Temple), a devoted friend, and a committed artist, Eunah transformed her many roles into a unity that was compelling from the start and unforgettable for those who knew her. People at the service noted that Eunah passed in and out of their lives; sometimes there would be no contact for months at a time. But the joy she occasioned when she was in our presence only made us feel just how remarkable she was.

Eunah Kim, Eskimo Shoes, 2004. Jingle bells, sewn felt on high heels, 24 x 8 inches.  Courtesy of the Artist
Eunah Kim, Eskimo Shoes, 2004. Jingle bells, sewn felt on high heels, 24 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the Artist

Eunah’s gift as an innocent brave enough to face all manner of experience made it clear she had much to offer. Her musical voice and distinctive laughter conveyed a delight in both spirituality and creativity; moreover, she was capable in her art of making both attributes cohere. Capable of deep friendship, she leaves her mark in the memories of those who knew her closely, but she also inspired those who only knew her on the periphery of her acquaintance. Through the many changes and travels her life comprised, Eunah became a grand citizen of the world, who moved about globally but made her mark locally in the feelings of her acquaintances and friends. Memory is often about the occasion of loss; however, she bequeathed to us a decency and delight the likes of which are extremely rare, helping us to see her life in a positive light.

It is the combination of deep joy and inspired craft that honors Eunah in her work. We are hard put to recognize this when it happens, in part because we see it only occasionally. But Eunah’s flags and sculptures, in the tradition of Beuys, look to an esthetic in which a person’s substance and character cannot be divided from the work itself. As her admirers and audience, we can only hope that we will keep alive not only the image of her as a person, but also the ideas and the particulars of her art. To be remembered as well is her profound pleasure in daily life; more than any one I know, Eunah had a capacity for amusement in the largest sense of that word. Art, it has been famously declared, makes nothing happen, but perhaps that “nothing” points to the Buddhist notion of emptiness permeating our lives and relations. My deepest regret is that I did not know her better, although her memory will reside in me—and many others—forever.

Eunah Kim: Born Sooncheon, Cholladam-do, Korea 1973, died Seoul, Korea, 2010. BA in Philosophy at DukSung Women’s University, Seoul, Korea, 1997; BFA in Painting at Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, 2004; Graduate Studies in Art Therapy at School of Visual Arts, New York, 2007.  Solo exhibitions at Won Buddhist Center, Boston, Mass. Norfolk Gallery, Cambridge, Mass., 2009; Korean-American Association of Greater New York, 2011; and Illuminated Metropolis, New York (upcoming).  Group exhibitions include Migration, curated by Nick Lawrence, at Freight + Volume, 2011.  Recipient of fellowships from the Pollock-Krasner Foundations, the Artists’ Fellowship, the Wheeler Foundation and the Capeli d’Angeli Foundation.