사대주의 (Sadaejuui) in Korea: Part 5

Rebecca Ghim
4 min readNov 29, 2020

Editing Past and Current Photos

1. The first picture is a scan of an old picture of me and my dad at an exhibition. The sculpture in the background is a white cast of clearly European artwork. I chose to replace the sculpture with King Sejong the Great because I wanted to reference him and his accomplishments. “King Sejong, whose epithet is “the Great,” is considered to have been one of the most outstanding Korean kings of the Choson Kingdom (1392–1910). […] He promoted research in the cultural, economic, and political heritage of Korea, and he sponsored many new developments in the areas of science, philosophy, music, and linguistics. […] He promoted cultural, economic, and scientific research. He instituted hangul, the Korean script.” 2. This is a scanned photo of my aunt and dad’s graduation. My dad has been really diligent in documenting his past, but not my mom. I don’t have any pictures of her, but I wanted a narrative for her in the album as well, so I’ve shared the album as her in this picture. I’ve changed their graduation caps from the American kind to the Korean scholar hats from the Joseon era. I referenced Sungkyunkwan University’s graduation caps because they were founded in 1398 by King Taejo and their campus and graduation garments have been preserved since then. 3. This scanned photo is of my dad in high school where he was obligated to take a military class under the dictatorship of Jeonghee Park, the former president. He was an army general that assumed political power, which has affected our ideology in terms of where we stand with the US and Noth Korea. I narrated in the film that he voluntarily enlisted in the army to serve our country because the compulsory military service has ended after the unification between North and South Korea.
4. For this scanned photo, I edited my lego toys for Korean traditional toys such as 윷놀이, 팽이, 딱지, and other figure dolls. This photo took a lot of time, but it had the least cultural or historical context other than what Korean toys look like. 5. This is a scanned photo of my sister wearing a shirt with a Miki-mouse on it, which I’ve edited to have 둘리 instead, which is a Korean cartoon that we’ve watched growing up in the 90s. 6. This is a photo that I took of my brother, I’ve added the solar panels and beehives to fulfill my dream of having a house that had both. I think because of the eco-friendly nature of our culture, our lifestyle would’ve remained sustainable.
7. This photo is me looking into 장독대 (jangdokdae) which is a clay pot to contain our sauce and kimchi in the ground to keep it cool. It’s rarely used now, but they’re often seen as decorations. 8. I’ve added the little pot on top of the fire to show a traditional method of brewing medicine in oriental medicine. We have had a long relationship with herbal medicine and acupuncture, so I wanted to portray this heritage with the clay fireplace. 9. I’ve added Korean traditional makeup containers, which contained saffron or powder. The perception of beauty I think wouldn’t have changed that much in terms of skin because we’ve always related white skin with less labor and more class. However, I think plastic surgery to look more Western wouldn’t have been as advance.
10. For this image, I wanted to show come ornaments that were often used like the 상투 (sangtu) on my head or the bracelet on my arm. This was taken in my dad’s library, which also portrays the love of learning in my family. 11. I’ve added the dried persimmons, fish, and squid in this picture to hint towards the food preservation method that’s commonly used to this day. Dried squid is often eaten as snacks with beer, and dried fish can be used for broth or soup, dried persimmons are just common sweets. This method is known to preserve all the healthy minerals and vitamins as they are not heated, they are simply dried in the sun or the sea breeze.

Documenting the Album

Final outcome: Vintage Album and My Grandma posing as my older self holding the family album.

My Reflection

This project was incredibly challenging as we began just when COVID took over the world. The collective, inclusive design methods I was being taught in class were directly incoherent to the messages I am receiving from the media. During this remote learning process, I’ve lost motivation completely at a few points and I’ve also felt hopeless and helpless because of what has been happening. I questioned a lot about what the designers’ role is and what I can do to be better. Ramon Tejada said, “Decolonizing is about unearthing, shifting the glance, de-centering, giving agency, being vulnerable, making mistakes, ideation, thinking about our communities, and not so much design.”

When I was conducting these co-design sessions it was prevalent that my determination towards redefining whom designers are serving and what the proper approach to the research is was met with separatism and anxiety. However, the processes during this project also brought me joy as it grounded me to my heritage and my family. It was a turning point in how I viewed my relationships because these were conversations that I would never normally have if it weren’t for the project. Getting my entire family involved to make the album was grueling but also so so valuable.

The sessions have taught me how I should approach the participants because I believe that in this case, I wasn’t successful in the down-up approach at all. The way I carry myself and how I show respect was something that I was never really careful about. The privilege I carry as a Westernized, educated, upper-middle-class, able-bodied person, I was able to rethink status, tradition, heritage, hierarchy, oppression, and all the elements that play a central role in people’s lives and relationships.

Elizabeth Tunstall said, “Just because one group is speaking louder doesn’t mean the other groups are speaking less.” ‘What is a dominant narrative’ was such a key question in this political time, which really created a perfect storm for me to have multiple stages of awakening. It was a huge turning point for me to think about democracy, design, history, family, power. I had never been very political, but through the process of learning in this unit, I’ve become very aware in terms of capitalism, colonialism, and systemized patriarchy and racism. The fact that I am able to see that everything is interconnected from a small virus to the global economy is such a valuable lesson.

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