Coreana Museum of Art in Seoul presents an exhibition of 14 artworks that deal with the various subjects of female work.
Art Radar looks at the exhibition and the works on show for the 15th anniversary of the Museum.
“Hidden Workers” brings together a group of female artists from around the globe. The exhibition features 14 artworks, including photographs, video installations, and digital prints to illustrate the issue of the women’s labour that has been under-recognised in society.
In the past, the Coreana Museum of Art has consistently held exhibitions related to issues of femininity and women. In line with this subject matter, “Hidden Workers” focuses on entrenched female labour issues within the social structure through unique observations and documentations. The exhibition also brings attention to hidden female labourers who are underestimated by society.
Participating female artists include Liliana Angulo, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, Hye Jeong Cho & Sook Hyun Kim, Marisa Gonzalez, Guerrilla Girls, Jungeun Kim, Yoonkyung Lim, Martha Rosler, Hye Jung Shim, Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Maya Zack. The artists focus on diverse interpretations of women’s labour and raise issues related to social structure and gender segregation. They were assigned to look at the subject of female labour related to housework and childcare in the 1970s up to female-oriented service work in the 2010s.
In contemporary society, the division between the roles of men and women seems somewhat more indistinguishable than in the past. Despite the slight changes of modern society, the neglected social issues surrounding the work of women, like chores, parenting, emotional labour, and undefined women’s responsibilities around the workplace and home, are still deeply rooted not only in Korea but also internationally.
“Hidden Workers” reveals the labour activities of women of various nationalities and occupations from an objective point of view, and asks questions regarding the current social structure to reconsider notions of gender apartheid that is inherited in many women’s workplaces.
Art Radar takes a closer look at some of the artworks in which issues of gender structures, disclosed through the delicate eyes of each female artist, have also been personally experienced in the artists’ previous workplaces.
Korean artist Yoonkyung Lim 9b. 1982) addresses childcare as women’s labour with a dissimilar look through Letter to You (2012-2014). She was a part-time babysitter when she was studying towards her MFA at the University of California, Los Angeles in the United States. The video installation Letter to You delivers a form of video letter to babies who got taken care by their multinational babysitters when they were aged 0-3. This video raises ambivalent issues about how female social advancement is impossible without the help of other women’s service work or parenting outsourcing. In addition, the artist draws attention to emotional labour, which is more intensive work than any other service work, and emphasises the troubles and efforts involved in having to cope with children through babysitters’ conversations. This artwork also shows that what women mainly do in society’s gendered structure is never light or easy work, even if it is done invisibly.
Colombian artist Liliana Angulo (b. 1974) collaborated with the African-American community to show the stories of discrimination in ethnicity, gender identity and class. In her work, she criticises the power structure that is transmitted through overarching narratives while trying to crack the universal hierarchy by using her own body.
On show, Angulo’s Negro Utópico (2001) focuses on the history that is linked to the artist’s identity. The artist, who became a subject herself, presents a painful history of a black woman who took care of a white family by exaggerating and disguising herself and minimising her appearance as a black person. She hides her body with wallpaper-like outfits to make her look like an invisible person only with the face visible. Through this work, Angulo exposes that women’s labour has been manipulated and hidden not only by structures of gender but also by power structures of race.
Angulo works in various media such as photography, performance, installation and video. She believes an artist should be an intellectual for the public. She is actively participating in conferences, workshops and planning as well as exhibitions centred on Latin America including Brazil and Colombia.
A video of a performance entitled The Emotional Society on Stage: Relational Aesthetics of Service Labour by Hye Jeong Cho & Sook Hyun Kim shows interviews with service workers of various occupations while a dancers wear a costume corresponding to each job identity. In the video, the heaviness of emotional labour’s invisible efforts is transformed into a hard-to-maintain motion in a space decorated with the mise-en-scène of a work environment.
Since 2000, Hye Jeong Cho has been steadily working on videos that offer critical views on women, politics and culture. Sook Hyun Kim, who majored in philosophy and sociology, has consistently produced flexible experimental films. Hye Jeong Cho and Sook Hyun Kim have been co-producing 16 mm performance films starting from Hold Me (2013), Portrait (2014), The Emotional Society on Stage: Relational Aesthetics of Service Labour (2014), Rhythm Production (2015), to Screen + Action! (2016).
The nail care service industry is particularly popular among women, especially those who have immigrated and are extremely (financially) responsible for their families.
Jungeun Kim (b. 1970) presents her experience as a nail care manager when she was in New York for her MFA study at Lehman College of the City University of New York. Nail Lady deals with her memories of customers whom she met through her experiences. Kim writes down her emotional feelings towards the customers, feelings that she could not reveal or she had to control in front of them. Through Nail Lady, Kim exposes the restricted emotions of service workers and tries to regain their right of expression.
During the exhibition period, the artist will perform Nail Lady performance from 2 pm to 6 pm every Saturday. Kim will provide nail care and a hand massage service to visitors in order to find a hand similar to the regular customer she met at the New York nail shop. When the hand of the participant is similar to the feeling of the hand that she is looking for, then she will offer extended service of nail care, including colours and photography of the hand.
Hye Jung Shim (b. 1967), an artist and film director, is working on a variety of genres including performances, experimental films and documentaries. The Camel and the Arab (2013), directed by Shim, looks into the deep and sensitive problems that are entangled in women’s migrant work through the story of an immigrant caretaker who is nursing Shim’s mother.
Among migrant workers who actively work between countries, women are often placed in situations where they have to penetrate into others personal spaces where they are mainly responsible for housework, nursing and childcare.
Shim has also conducted the subtitle translation workshop “Arabian and translation office”, so that the various immigrants could see The Camel and the Arab. The film is available in Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Bangladeshi, Indonesian and English.
Spanish artist Marisa Gonzalez (b. 1945), who continues to focus on various crises around the world, has produced a documentary video, Female, Open Space Invaders (2010-12), which concentrates on Filipino migrant workers who work as domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Filipino women who are well-educated and fluent in English account for 60 percent of Hong Kong domestic helpers. The wages they earn in Hong Kong are three times the wages paid in the Philippines, which is lower than the minimum payment earned by locals working in Hong Kong.
This documentary video captures Filipino women’s gatherings on Sunday in the main streets and plazas of Hong Kong, where they are enjoying their time off and sending money to their families in the Philippines.
Gonzalez is one of the pioneers in using technologies in artworks that incorporate diverse artistic disciplines, such as videos, photographs, sounds, digital art and installation to develop a unique poetic, interdisciplinary visual language.
Times have changed and society has changed, but still, household work, childcare and other care work are being continued by women in a place where they are mostly invisible. Exhibition curator Hyejin Park explains to Art Radar about the inspiration behind the show:
As a female in the mid-thirties, I encountered a lot of females (relatives,friends, co-workers, etc), who were struggling with the problem of housework and childcare, regardless of whether they were working or not. These works seemed to take up a lot of time, but the women’s work seemed largely invisible, and even taken for granted by members of the family. That’s when I came up with the idea of organising a show that deals with the issue, by looking at contemporary works of art.
While works included in the exhibition all focus on ‘female labour’, each work has more layers for interpretation, as issues of race, nationality and class intersect. Therefore, various voices can be heard through the exhibition, and I hope that the visitors can consider this when they view the works.
“Hidden Workers” explores the invisible gender structure in the workplace of women by a delicate perspective of art. The issues surrounding women’s labour are not solely women’s issues; it is the stories of our mother, sister, daughter and wife who are the members of our society.
Soo Jeong Kang
“Hidden Workers” is on view from 5 April to 16 June 2018 at Coreana Museum of Art, 827 Eonjuro Gangnam gu, Seoul, 06024, Korea.
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