Interview: London based Korean artist, Francesca Cho

by Eunjung Shin on 12 March, 2011 updated 6 December, 2017

in General arts news | Interviews and features | Koreans in UK

Francesca Cho in her studio

Francesca Cho in her studio

London based artist Francesca Cho has studied and worked in London for the past seventeen years. I was curious at how an artist who has lived in London for such a long time would think about her self-identity and how her works would deal with Korean identity in London.

Why did you use Korean letters in your works?

Francesca Cho: Hangul #5

Francesca Cho: Hangul #5

In the beginning, it was purely an expression of my emotional feeling without any involvement or motivation of the political situation in Korea. As a student far away from home I have had to cope with great loneliness and isolation although I came to the UK to fulfill my dreams and ambitions. I therefore needed a lot of support from ‘home’; it was the meaning of the Korean epic poem ‘Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven’ (The deep-rooted tree is not swayed by the wind. The deep-sprung well is not dried by the drought.) The poem was the first work written in Korean after King Sejong the Great invented the Korean written language in the fifteenth century.

Francesca Cho: North and South #5

Francesca Cho: North and South #5

A few years ago I thought about what my country meant to me and also about the division of Korea after painful experiences of emotional turmoil because of a couple of national art events where political issues were involved.

I am Korean and Korea includes both the north and the south. However, a Korean born in the south cannot see the north or meet North Koreans so the image of people in North Korea is vague. After thinking about my identity as a Korean in London the realization that the war between South and North Korea had not yet ended was a complete shock to me. It was a painful moment for me and I started creating the painting ‘The tragedy of fratricidal war’ in Korea with ash.

But, you were born after the Korean War so you never experienced it.

Of course, the ceasefire was 58 years ago, but we Koreans are influenced directly or indirectly by the unfinished war between the two Koreas.

After living in England for seventeen years, do you feel you have a little bit English?

Francesca Cho: Work in progress

Francesca Cho: Work in progress

Even though I have lived here for seventeen years, I am still a foreigner to English people. Sometimes, I surprise myself because I think I react like an English person but many people do not see me in the same way. I do not mind where I belong; I may not be either English or Korean. Now I can see what represents Korean identity more clearly from the outside and speak up about what I want to say.

In my work, I use the ash of my burnt belongings; for example to create the white in the silhouettes of Great Britain and Korea (see above). The paintings are ongoing. Now I am Korean and maybe a little English as well. I want to create my own identity with these images.

The meaning of war in Francesca’s works is expanded to include the ‘invisible war’ between people.

Francesca Cho: Untitled

Francesca Cho: Untitled

War is everywhere. Almost everyday we hear on the news that a soldier or a civilian has died in a conflict. When a soldier sacrifices his life for his country, he cannot come back to life. Even though people mourn him and put beautiful roses on his coffin, the death of one person cannot be compensated. The rose petals in my works represent the mortality of life and the pain of ‘invisible war’. If there were no longer any wars neither lives nor roses would be sacrificed.

Not only guns can kill, words too, spoken without thought, can become an ‘invisible gun’.The ash from my burnt belongings contain my memories in this ‘invisible war’. I add ash to most of my paintings. This will fertilize the dying heart after the war and help it to recover.

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