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Artist Handi Kim on the importance of self-expression and vulnerability

This piece originally appeared in the Strand Magazine's Summer 2020 Issue

Replikka 3A3 by Handi Kim

Graphic Designer Handi Kim is a ‘loud’ artist. She makes sure to share a part of herself in her colourful, vibrant artwork in order to ensure it reaches the hearts of her audience. From intimate representations of the inner workings of her mind in her project ‘Replikka!’ to sensitive conversations with her father in ‘Dear Appa’, it is safe to say the Handi encapsulates a part of her soul in all her pieces. “I’m a really talkative person and I really like a talkative audience,” she tells Strand. “When communication is facilitated, I get inspired – it’s like an endless circle”.

This love of communication is what instigated Handi to make the jump from studying ceramic craft at Kookmin University in South Korea to pursuing Graphic Design at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. The traditional teachings of ceramic crafts in South Korea was not big enough to contain Handi’s expressive ideas and yearning to collaborate with other artists. “When I studied ceramic crafts the school taught me to focus on myself and reach for my inner self to make better work. This was a great lesson, of course, but to me it was like shouting towards a wall. I just really needed communication, I wanted to collaborate”. Handi mentions that she thought that graphic design was the medium that could best satisfy this craving.

Kim’s need to experience other worlds was another reason for her move from South Korea to the Netherlands. Living in Daegu since she was young, an area of Korea known for its conservatism, Handi was subject to an atmosphere of gender inequality. “There was a very prevalent idea of what men should do and what women should do. People were not used to originality”.

For the artist, however, this climate catalyzed her love for the arts. “When I started watching animations, the world on screen looked so ideal and different compared to the reality. From that moment, I started making art, drawing characters and comics as a form of escaping from reality,” she says. Handi adds that contrary to her childhood, the Korean art scene is growing and thriving.

After moving to the Netherlands, her love for various mediums grew: she began experimenting with digital, photography, animation, videography, and the analogue, textile and acrylic. She even taught herself 3D modeling watching tutorials on Youtube. She is unafraid to experiment with different mediums to find the one that best communicates her ideas. “I really like to explore and dig into something exciting if the concept is really good,” she says.

Below: Replikka by Handi Kim

Handi uses the medium of graphic design to explore her thought process around the question ‘where is my first internet account?’ in her projects ‘Replikka!’ and ‘Replikka! 3A3’. When we’re young, it can be an amazing experience to create your own first account online and begin surfing the internet. Sooner or later, however, these accounts, and in a way a version of ourselves, are forgotten. One day Handi attempted to uncover her first internet ‘self’ but was disappointed to hear that she was not allowed access. “I was like, ‘It’s my account that I made with my identity number – how come I can’t find it?”. She expressed her feelings in visual languages creating the ‘Replikka!’ series.

When asked if she felt as if she could ever come to a conclusion in this exploration of the ‘self’ she replies that there are still more questions to be asked as it is a very “philosophical project”. “I think this project will be accumulated and accumulated and I don’t think I’m going to answer this question any time soon,” she answers.

Handi’s memorable experiences also serve as a source of inspiration for her artwork. The idea for ‘Odd Land’ came to her when she saw a strategically hidden cat statue in front of a house when she had just flown into the Netherlands. “I don’t know why I was directly reminded of Spirited Away from Studio Ghibli,” Handi laughs. Her imagination ran wild ending with Kim creating her own fictitious amusement park based on the weird experiences she had in the Netherlands. The bright solid colours and the mocking faces of its inhabitants add to the uneasy, unfamiliar atmosphere. Her experiences of cat calling, racist remarks and excrement filled streets in the Netherlands are directly reflected in ‘Odd Land’ through the ‘kitty caller’, the ‘racist wheel’ and the ‘pooping carousel’.

Odd Land by Handi Kim

‘Dear Appa’ (Dear Father) is one of Handi’s most personal, and most raw, works. “I actually had a problem with my father,” she hesitates. “We loved each other so much but we had a huge distance because of patriarchy”. The artist explains that through this project she wanted to know more about her father and his insecurities. Handi recalls the time they called for an hour and a half for this project stating that initially it seemed difficult to have a deep conversation like she intended. “I was sweating and trembling while calling him,” she says. It wasn’t long before her father opened up to her explaining that his conservative and strict practices stemmed from his insecurity of losing his position in society.

Her creation directly references their interaction as Handi crafted a vest with medals symbolizing aspects of his insecurity. ‘Dear Appa’ evokes Handi’s audience to think about their own family dynamic.

Handi’s vulnerability is what makes her special. “I think the more I try to share my own story, the more the story becomes authentic and original,” she says. She hopes that her experiences could be used to connect with the audience.

Kim also realises the importance of using her platform as a woman of colour. “As an Asian woman living in the West under patriarchy and gender inequality, I want to speak out loud”. Through expressing herself via her artwork she hopes to contribute to societal change.

“If I can change my father’s ideas, we can change Korean society’s ideas,” she states hopefully.

Edited: Godelieve de Bree

Dear Appa by Handi Kim

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