|NYSNYS NEWS: Deaf culture inspires evocative art at Skidmore's Tang Teaching Museum exhibit of works by Christine Sun Kim.
|By Kyle Hughes
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY (April 8, 2023) -- Christine Sun Kim's new Tang Teaching Museum show, "Oh Me Oh My," is all about sound, both heard and unheard.
Kim's evocative drawings, murals, sounds and videos draw from deaf culture and American Sign Language (ASL). She looks at and challenges the situation that puts auditory communication on top and deaf people on the margins. This is not a conceit -- Kim is deaf, uses ASL to speak, and, in the Tang's words, "makes artwork engaged with how sound is understood, experienced and valued... Kim's work foregrounds the visual, physical and political dimensions sound inhabits."
It may sound dense, but Kim's art is pretty direct and accessible, with flashes of humor. "In all her work, Kim interrogates and celebrates the intricacies of our social and perceptual landscape," the gallery guide says. A full catalog is said to be forthcoming.
The terrific show at the Tang at Skidmore College (and on a billboard along Route 9 heading into the city near Northway Exit 13), is her first solo exhibit. It is an eye and ear opener about communication and, to put it simply, how people talk to and try to get along with each other. It is presented with honesty, humor, pain and anger -- delivered with the candor that is characteristic of deaf culture. It rings true, a portal into a place unknown to many of us.
Kim grew up in California, lived in New York, lives and works in Berlin, Germany, and is for the time being a resident artist at Somerset House in London. She has exhibited and performed at MoMA, the Whitney Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and many other venues. Speaking through a pair of ASL interpreters, she gave an artist's talk at Skidmore to a SRO house on March 4, formally opening an exhibit that runs through July 19.
Much of her presentation concerned the many challenges deaf people face. (Again, her words quoted here were conveyed by speaking ASL interpreters.) "I'd say 99 percent of my deaf friends come from hearing families and they don't have good family relationships. .... Lots of families, they don't sign and there's different reasons why there might not be good family relations. It's a sad thing out there that when you're born into a hearing family you're almost automatically, kind of -- it's built in there there's not going to be a good relationship between the child and the parents. It's an ongoing issue."
She talked about receiving SSI benefits while in college and how, unlike her hearing peers, she could not find a job. She also described the challenges faced during covid-19, when images of ASL interpreters at healthcare briefings were cropped so it was impossible to following signing and read facial expressions; or the interpreters were "microscopic" in a corner of the screen. She gave former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio high marks for his use of ASL interpreters, and not so much so for his successor, Eric Adams.
She spoke about being invited to sign the National Anthem at the 2020 Super Bowl, an experience she wrote about in the NY Times afterwards. The Fox TV cameras cut away from her after a few seconds to focus on Yolanda Adams, Demi Lovato, and players on the sidelines. "Still, my pride in being chosen for this performance was genuine," she wrote in the NYT. "Because of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, I have been afforded the rights and access that have allowed me to live a life on par with my fellow citizens. I am able to watch TV with captions, make phone calls through an online video platform, and have interpreters provided for my education, among many other privileges. I have traveled to many countries and witnessed firsthand the lack of equality for deaf people all over the world, making me appreciate being an American even more. I realize that being a citizen of this country is not something to be taken for granted."
While she was a little doubtful at first about the gig, she accepted the NFL's invitation as the representative of the National Association of the Deaf. "Our rights can easily disappear if we do not continue to show up in places like the Super Bowl," she wrote.
At the Tang, Kim ended her remarks with thanks for the help and support she has gotten to create and explore the nexus of hearing and deaf cultures: "This is my artwork, this is my career, this is what I do, this is my vision and I stay with it. It can be very individualized. But I feel that how I got to this point in my life -- really with my partner -- was huge support. My family has been with me through all of this -- interpreters, gallerists. It did not happen just because of me."
Admission to the Tang on Skidmore's campus is free. The Museum is featuring an ASL-only tour of the exhibit on April 15 and an ASL poetry reading by Noah Buchholtz, a deaf performance artist, on April 19. Info: