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ART REVIEW

Sowing questions and stories in ‘GHOST ROOTS’ at Pao Arts Center

‘What does it mean to be Korean, to be Kenyan, to be American, never forming roots, never belonging?’ asks artist Soyoung L. Kim.

Soyoung L. Kim, detail, "GHOST ROOTS: A New 강강술래 Ganggangsullae," site-specific installation, mixed media, Pao Arts Center.Mel Taing

Multimedia artist Soyoung L. Kim’s installation “GHOST ROOTS: A New 강강술래 Ganggangsullae,” at the Pao Arts Center, weaves stories of family, immigration, and anti-Asian racism into the motif of a ganggangsullae, a traditional Korean circle dance typically performed by women under a full moon.

The expansiveness of Kim’s painting carries “GHOST ROOTS.” In it, a muscular blue river swirls down a long wall, linking works on canvas and old windows. The latter create the effect of peering through the past to see the present. This installation is a companion piece to a performance video by the same name, which will be screened on Dec. 1. An excerpt from the video here features Kim’s hand painting a watery circle — it feels like an egg opening to the wall painting that follows.

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“Where does YOUR JOURNEY begin?” reads handwriting on the first painting on canvas, “mine begins here — where we’ll become WATER.”

It’s necessary to become water, it seems, in order to flow through borders — like the 38th parallel, the line that demarcates North Korea and South Korea, shown in a map painted on a window. Kim was born in South Korea and grew up in Kenya. “What does it mean to be Korean, to be Kenyan, to be American,” Kim asks in an audio component, “never forming roots, never belonging?”

Soyoung L. Kim, detail, "GHOST ROOTS: A New 강강술래 Ganggangsullae," site-specific installation, mixed media, Pao Arts Center. Mel Taing

In the performance video, Kim and Fernadina Chan, founder of the Continuum Dance Project, dance and tell stories, tying together family tales with reflections on history, racism, and social justice, pointedly referring to the recent spike in violence against Asian Americans.

The artist has a poet’s knack with language; in the installation, she pares down content from the video to evocative scraps of text, images, and gestures that course along the blue river. In a painting on windowpanes dripping with yellow, hands reach for each other. “Can America’s embrace include the yellow of my skin?” reads handwriting on the wall.

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In ganggansullae, women come together to express their joy and grief, Kim says at the beginning of the performance video. In that circle, sisterhood and dance may alchemize loss, conflict, and violence into community healing. Kim’s mural, rushing and splattering and gathering momentum, does the same — pulling the broken pieces together into a new kind of whole.

GHOST ROOTS: A New 강강술래 Ganggangsullae

At Pao Arts Center, 99 Albany St., through Dec. 2. 617-863-9080, www.paoartscenter.org/events/2022/ghostroots


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.