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Su Kaiden Cho explores the ambiguity of identity

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SU KAIDEN CHO
  • Su Kaiden Cho
Artist Su Kaiden Cho always has a mask on. But that’s not a reference to Oscar Wilde’s line in The Critic as Artist about how a mask lets a person speak more freely than in their own persona.

“I’ve been putting on this mask that nobody sees to try to fit in with the culture,” he says. “The American culture, or when I go back to Korea, I put the mask of American culture aside and put on a mask to fit in with Korean culture.”

Cho was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1991 but he’s lived in the Springs since age 9. He uses the term “ethnic liminality” to describe that sense of wearing masks in either culture he interacts with. Liminality is an in-between-ness, the ambiguity between point A and point B. In anthropology, it refers to being in the middle of a rite of passage, neither what one was nor yet what one will become. And to Cho, it refers to the disorientation and ambiguity he feels about his ethnic identity — to be Korean-American is, in a sense, an identity that’s not really Korean or American.

“My grandmother said this once [when I visited Korea],” he says. “She sensed that I wasn’t part of the Korean culture. That I lost that part of my Korean culture.”
SU KAIDEN CHO
  • Su Kaiden Cho
He’s exploring that liminality through an installation he’s constructed called “RECALL,” on display at The Machine Shop through Feb. 22, a sculptural piece that’s in line with his previous works. It’s an abstract expression of the synapse-like connections between parts of himself. But it’s something of a framework, full of empty spaces and hollowness he says he feels beneath his mask — the cultural touchstones he’s missing or has lost in the process of acculturation.

For him, that disorientation and ambiguity he feels surround his ethnic identity, but he wants his work to connect to a wide range of identity questions. He hopes those who view his work will feel more confident asking what masks they wear and why they wear them. Cho, for his part, has found comfort in his liminal identity.
“To me, that’s the beauty of it,” he says. “I don’t have to belong to either one as long as I know my true self.”

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