Comprising five paintings and a ceramic sculpture (all from 2016), Annette Hur’s Ee Bang In/Person from Outside at Chicago Artists Coalition is particularly relevant in our current environment. Hur was born in South Korea and has been living and working in Chicago since 2013. “Ee bang in” translates to “person from outside” and Hur says she chose her title “because I tried to tell my narrative from my own perspective that is Asian and female from outside who tries to assimilate or stand alone in the United States… In these political circumstances, I wanted to speak about minorities who came from outside like me and go through all the issues and hardships just because we are Ee-bang-ins.”
However, visually, the political message is far more subtle than her statement would suggest. Hur’s paintings are strikingly different when viewed up close and from afar. At close viewing, they appear almost as abstractions, with a focus on color, shape, and drips of paint, as well as a few discernible objects. Taking a few steps back, female faces come into focus.
About her use of the face as a framing construct, Hur says, “The face, as an emotive object, has long carried the dual symbolism of a mask that hides or an entry point that reveals. … I manipulate the familiar structure of the face to build a complex narrative world in which a feminine figure lays subject to the dominant systems in place.” While the faces are female, Hur says she plays with masculine/feminine dualities by combining straight and curvy, hard and soft. “I mix and manipulate and harmonize them to my own female language to represent a lot of females’ interwinding identities. That’s one of the reasons I paint big too,” she adds.
The exhibition brochure proposes that Hur’s paintings make visual the cliché of a little person sitting inside our head concocting our thoughts. Another interpretation might be that the works are both portraits of imaginary women as well as scenes of actors on stage. In addition to serving as hair, this body part resembles a curtain or proscenium arch through which we view the internal narratives.
In many instances, her subjects’ noses seem to be created from bodies or body parts. In Wanderers, it’s a bent arm; in Just about acceptable, a crouching nude body seen from the back; in Crossing, a full body in silhouette; in Shimmering and The caged bird sings the nose is formed from a torso and buttocks.
Most of the works have strong vertical lines in the background, evoking barred windows or interior blinds. Hur, who was trained in traditional Korean calligraphy, says that this ancient practice, with its “clean, simple, bold lines…heavily influences my mark-making.”
Hur’s paintings resonate on so many levels today: immigration, women’s rights, body politics, and identity. Additionally, they are exquisitely created by an accomplished painter.
The exhibition runs through February 23, at Chicago Artists Coalition, 217 N. Carpenter St.
All images courtesy of the artist.