May 11, 2016
A journey to find my position between history and 'nowness'
“Stand back please!,” yelled the policeman kindly, as he blocked me as I was on my way to film protesters. A woman next to me told the police that I was Korean and couldn’t understand his words. Once he realized I was a foreigner, he didn’t try to stop me, and I was able to approach the protesters and film the whole protest process. After three protest songs, police started to pull protesters away to clear the road for construction trucks, dragging the protesters out of the road onto the sidewalk. This was what I witnessed in Okinawa, Japan, last January 9th and what has happened every day at 6:30 a.m. in Henoko since 1997.

Human existential conditions are close to historical, social, and geographical conditions. Our identities, connected to the territorial sanctity of our birthplaces, have a long historical continuity. When we think of history, we might be able to start from family history. My father, my father’s father, my father’s father’s father—the father of our fathers. My mother, my mother’s mother, my mother’s mother’s mother—the mother of our mothers. To what level of family history should/could we feel as a part of our identity? This is one of the main questions that I explore in my work as I seek to figure out how family history and national identity affect the formation of my current values and identity. What can/should we do if our existence or identity is significantly involved in the product of the past?

My grandfather was evacuated from North Korea right before the Korean War broke out in 1950 and settled in South Korea. Historically, the Korean War was a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union as a part of the Cold War and has continued to the present day, resulting in a divided Korea. The generation I belong to didn’t experience war. However, I feel as if the memory of the war my grandparents’ and parents’ generations experienced is branded on my body as a type of scar, and at the same time I feel it as a mythology. I see this contradictory feeling as a positive sign that my generation has enough distance from the past to deal with it by creating new values and interpretations.

The Okinawan people have been protesting against the issues of US military bases and the relocation of the Marine Corps air station in Henoko, Okinawa. At the same time, they are protesting against the government of mainland Japan for independence of Okinawa from Japan. In 1879, imperial Japan invaded and annexed the Okinawans’ independent kingdom, Ryukyu, and eliminated their culture and language. However, Okinawans’ race and national identity are different from that of mainland Japanese. Approximately 75 percent of all exclusively US military bases in Japan are in Okinawa, which represents 0.6 percent of Japan’s national territory. For these reasons, the Okinawan people believe they are experiencing discrimination and they are fighting for independence from the Japanese mainland. While researching and traveling to document protesters and vestiges of the past in Okinawa, I started to think about the meaning, function, and role of country, nationality, and ethno-national identity. What would be an ideal relationship between individuals and their country?

In my recent video work HENOKO, I try to focus on more than complicated political issues—I also examine the idea of protesters as individuals who are resisting and not conforming to a country’s decision as well as the visible/invisible boundaries created by the different backgrounds of the police, protesters, private security guards, US soldiers, and bystanders. Their different positions yield multiple layers and emotions. I am interested in how society affects (or controls) individuals and how individuals react to society and the point where a single event (microhistory) meets broader society (macrohistory), which ultimately shows “nowness” and reality.