If anyone is a contender for the definition of working past obstacles and succeeding, Christine Sun Kim would be a clear candidate. Kim, born deaf to Korean parents in California, has been breaking barriers, including sound, as an illustrator, painter, video and performance artist. Earlier this year, she gave a TED talk in ASL called The enchanting music of sign language, which has serves as a jumping off point for all that she sets out to do. Challenging the perceptions of ownership of sound and what qualifies one’s work with sound, she’s making waves collaborating with others and orchestrating an art that is wholly her own.
Working Through the Barrier of Hearing
As a young student, Kim was pressed to develop interests in writing, literacy, math and science. By age 23, she realized she took to art but didn’t have a defined style of her own. After working with other mediums, she found sound art to be one that really stuck with her. Despite being born deaf and sound being an unspoken topic among friends, Kim pursued an artistic residency at the Whitney Museum in New York, work with MoMA PS1 in Queens and has a current exhibition called Rustle Tustle in the UK. With other ASL interpreters and visionaries that share the same goal, Kim has produced thought provoking work that wouldn’t have been possible without pushing through dismissive peers or barriers of accessibility.
What Sound Means to Kim
In Kim’s TED Talk, she explains the need to question relationships with sound and what she calls “sound etiquette.” Being born deaf does not exempt her to a world without sound, as she deftly makes a case for. Sound etiquette is when she’s told not to slam doors or chew too loudly eating potato chips. In fact, she does know sound, but in a different way. “In deaf culture,” she emphasizes, “movement is equivalent to sound.” That being said, Kim has found that facial expressions are equated with music and sound too, as slight changes and nuances entail different meanings. Her career path may not be an easy one, but that’s Kim’s point. Deaf people do not have to be sectioned off, not understanding sound. It can empower or it can restrict, and Kim chooses to be empowered.
Get Involved with an Arts Program
If you’re looking to participate in an arts program near you, a great place to start is with VSA. VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, focuses on providing arts and education opportunities for all people with disabilities. By searching for an affiliate in your state, you can see the inclusive programs available near you. Or, you can search for similar, smaller-scale art centers like Creative Growth Art Center that offers a comfortable, studio environment for artists with disabilities. Whether you’re becoming more in touch with your artistic side or volunteering to help others do that, involvement in the arts is beneficial for all.
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