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In conversation: Sona Kim

Meet Seunga Sona Kim, a talented Korean artist based in Chicago. Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Kim's artistic exploration revolves around the relationship between garments and the individual's persona and visual identity. Her artistic journey has expanded beyond wearable garments, encompassing paintings and sculptural works that have been exhibited in various cities including Chicago, Wonju, Seoul, Manila, and more.

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

23 de maio de 2023

Artist Statement

Seunga Sona Kim’s practice is a reflection of her personal experiences and her exploration of the complexities of identity transformation. Employing zippers and used garments as metaphors for the fluctuating self, Kim’s work delves into the uncertainty and distortion of identity, inviting viewers to confront their own relationships with their sense of self and the process of defining oneself through the simple yet profound act of zipping up garments. Constantly moving between countries and cities throughout her life, Kim has grappled with the challenge of defining oneself in an ever-changing world. Her work visualizes the act of mocking one’s surroundings, a coping mechanism she used to blend into the near community in a longing for perfection and acceptance.

The story of the crow with borrowed feathers, which Kim often references, is a metaphor for the phantom identity that serves as the first step of transformation. Through her work, Kim not only raises questions about the method of viewing and defining oneself but also challenges viewers to confront the complexities of identity and embrace the act of embodying the identity one desires, no matter how temporary or borrowed it may be.

Let's start with the fundamentals. What influences and studies shaped you into the artist you are today? 

As an artist, my aim is to create artwork that can connect with people on a personal level. I believe that art should be accessible and enjoyable to a wide audience and that it should tell a story that people can easily empathize with. To achieve this, I draw inspiration from the diverse cultures and experiences that I have encountered during my travels. I am constantly seeking out new perspectives, reading books, watching movies, and exploring different artistic styles to inform my own work. By incorporating elements from a wide range of cultures and styles, I hope to create artwork that is aesthetically pleasing, emotionally engaging, and universally relatable. Ultimately, my art philosophy is grounded in the belief that art has the power to bring people together and foster greater understanding and empathy across cultures.

How does the use of zippers and used garments as metaphors for the fluctuating self in your work reflect your personal experiences of identity transformation?

The experiences of my life have been central to the creation of my artwork, particularly the exploration of the fluctuating self and the process of identity transformation. Having lived in many different countries and cities, my first priority was always to blend in with my surroundings. But despite my efforts to look, talk, and think like the people around me, I could not change the fundamental aspects of myself. This struggle to fit in is reflected in my work through the use of zippers as metaphors for the ease of transformation, but also the ability to easily return to oneself. Used garments also have a story of the former wearer behind them, which I can empathize with and add my own layer of personal history to. Through these metaphors, I aim to convey the importance of maintaining a sense of self in the midst of transformative experiences.


Mimus Syndrome by Sona Kim. Image courtesy of Sona Kim.

In what ways does your exploration of individual personas and visual identities through garments challenge traditional notions of fashion and clothing?

The conventional understanding of fashion and garments is based on certain expectations of appearance linked to one's social status, profession, or age. However, my exploration of individual personas and visual identities through garments challenges this notion by embracing the idea that people should have the flexibility to express themselves through their clothing and alter their appearance according to their personal preferences. This perspective is supported by the fact that clothing is a simple yet effective means of achieving this, allowing people to embrace a multitude of personas and aspirations, each characterized by distinct garments and appearances. Photographer Nikki S. Lee's work provides an illustration of this idea too, as she transforms her appearance to match the societal norms of the group she is associating with. In summary, my approach challenges the conventional understanding of fashion and clothing by embracing the notion that people should be able to express themselves freely through their clothing and adopt different visual identities as they see fit.


What can you tell us about the series of works, Mockingbird?

In this series, "Mockingbird", I explore the fluidity of identity and transformation through fashion, using the act of zipping a garment to visually convey the desired self. Garments have the power to define our persona and reflect our sense of self. By using zippers and recycled clothing as metaphors, I highlight the changes in one's identity and the act of mocking one's surroundings. The inspiration for this work is my personal story of myself envying things that I was not included in. This series invites viewers to examine their own relationship with their identities and definitions, challenging them to embody the identity they desire, even if only temporarily or borrowed. Initially starting as a budget-friendly mood board for another work, I utilized scraps and recycled garments to reduce waste. However, this work has transformed my perspective, inspiring me to appreciate the power of fashion to express and reshape our sense of self.


Home for the Mockingbird - flood by Sona Kim. Image courtesy of Sona Kim.

How do you balance the personal and the universal in your work, creating pieces that reflect your own experiences but also resonate with a wider audience?

In my work, I strive to strike a balance between the personal and the universal. To achieve this, I engage in conversations with people around me and try to understand society without any preconceived biases or perspectives. By doing so, I gain insight into how people think and live, and if a topic resonates with me and those around me, I believe it will also resonate with a broader audience. Though the inspiration for my work comes from my own struggles to fit in with my surroundings, I believe that desire, envy, and the need for acceptance are universal human desires that transcend time, place, and culture. I explore the topic of multiple identities in my work, hoping to create a piece that many people can empathize with, particularly in a world where countless images and information influence and shape the personas people create.


How has your experience of moving between different countries and cities impacted your artistic practice?

My personal experiences have not only influenced the overall storyline of my work but have also inspired me to contribute to the world more. I have always aimed to experience as many cultures and perspectives as possible, which has broadened my perspective of the world and become my biggest inspiration. Through these experiences, I have been able to step out of my own small box surrounded by a single culture. Moreover, I have also begun to think beyond my artwork and outside of my small studio. I have started to consider global issues such as pollution, and I have begun to pursue eco-friendly work using recycled materials and producing zero waste during my art practice.


Home for the Mockingbird - Fafternoon by Sona Kim. Image courtesy of Sona Kim.

Can you discuss the significance of the "crow with borrowed feathers" metaphor in your work?

“Yet he imagined that all he needed to make himself fit for the society of the Peacocks was a dress like theirs.”

In my work, I mainly use the metaphor of the "Crow with Borrowed Feathers" from the Aesop fable storybook. This metaphor has significant meaning as it reflects the desire to fit in and be like those around us. The black crow in the fable envied the colorful birds in his surroundings and tried to mimic them by wearing their feathers, but in the end, the mimicry had to end. Similarly, while I believe that people can have multiple identities and personas, it is important to never lose oneself in the process. There needs to be a place where our true, initial self can always come back and feel at home. Through my work, I invite viewers to examine their relationship with their identities and to embrace the complexities of their true selves, rather than simply mimicking others in order to fit in.

How do you hope your art will inspire viewers to confront their own relationships with their sense of self and the process of defining oneself?

I aim to send a message that it's okay to take a journey of exploration and discover what you desire and want to be. Our sense of self is not fixed, and we have the freedom to explore and discover more about ourselves. Through my art, I hope to encourage viewers to understand that life is a journey, and there are no easy answers. By acknowledging and confronting our desires, we can create more space to accept and love ourselves.


Home for the Mockingbird - night by Sona Kim. Image courtesy of Sona Kim.

Can you discuss the role of art in challenging and expanding traditional notions of identity and encouraging individuals to embrace temporary or borrowed identities as a means of self-expression and transformation?

While art has traditionally been a means of expressing the artist's self, there are no limitations or fixed images when it comes to art. In the world of contemporary art, anything can happen, and art has changed with society. Traditional notions of identity were about obeying cultural and familial rules, but now it's about pursuing what one truly wants to do and be. Art provides more means for self-expression and discovery. Through art, individuals can explore temporary or borrowed identities, which can inspire self-expression and transformation.

Lastly, are there any podcasts, books, or platforms you would recommend to our readers?

"Momo" by Michael Ende

"The Five People You Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom

"Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom

I am drawn to books that prompt me to reflect on my life and my perspective on the world. My ultimate aim is to look back on my life with confidence, knowing that I lived fully, and honestly, and brought joy to myself and others without any regrets. The books that I have listed above have given me profound insights and reflections about the meaning of life. In addition to these contemporary works, I also find timeless classics such as Aesop's Fables, Talmud, Bible, and Grimm Brothers to be the best references for enriching my knowledge and understanding of life.

Know more about the artist here.

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Seunga Sona Kim is a Chicago-based Korean artist who was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. Kim’s work explores garments with the relation of individual’s persona and visual identity. Her art has expanded from wearable garments to paintings and sculptural works that were exhibited in many different cities such as Chicago, Wonju, Seoul, Manila and so on. Kim received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Craft focusing on metalsmithing and a Bachelor of Science in Textile, Merchandising and Fashion Design from Seoul National University with the highest distinction and recently received a Master in Design in Fashion, Body and Garment at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


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