young min moon

Kim Insook, <SAIESEO> Great-grandmother and I, 2008. Courtesy the artist

Kim Insook, <SAIESEO> Grandson and I, 2008. Courtesy the artist

Yearning for Home: Representation of North Koreans

in the Work of Kim Insook

        home Works on Paper Some Sense of Order projects writings deconstruction of fear resonant objects land of happiness yearning for home rag face translocating women on failure the poetics of latency shifting anxieties report from the underside out of pictures phantoms of community the illegal lives the politics of curating activating korea incongruent for eliese editorial info contact

"Yearning for Home: Representation of North Koreans in the Work of Kim Insook," Trans Asia

Photography Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, Fall 2014.

Revised version re-published as "Citizenship and North Korea in the Zainichi Korean

Imagination: The Art of Insook Kim," with an introduction by Sonia Ryang. The Asia-Pacific

Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 5, No. 3, February 2, 2015.

Included in Trans Asia Photography Review's issue focusinging on diaspora, this essay

discusses the work of photographer Kim Insook, a third generation Zainichi Korean in Japan who

divides her time between S. Korea and Japan. Almost all of Zainichi Korean in Japan has come

from Southern part of Korea during the Japanese colonial era. They have been systemically

discriminated against by the mainstream Japanese society. The essay contextualizes Kim’s

extended series of photographs of children attending North Korea-affiliated schools in Japan,

which Kim, herself a graduate of the similar school, initially regards as her true home. For

it is at this school where languages, ideologies, and cultures of Japan and two Koreas

manifest in complex ways, which were crucial to the formation of her own multifaceted


The essay surveys Kim’s projects in chronological order in order to reveal the artist’s

increasingly sophisticated awareness of the intricacies of diasporic subjectivity. Kim makes a

journey to various places in South Korea in an effort to locate the ‘essence’ of her

motherland, but not surprisingly, fails to find it. This failure and disillusionment enables

her to regard the Zainichi community in Japan in a different perspective. In some sense, Kim’s

work is a yearning for home, however provisional it may be. In an ongoing search for self, her

project poses the question of whether if there is such a thing as true and authentic diasporic

subject, and whether a hybrid identity is possible for Zainichi Koreans living in Japan where

naturalization is still the only means to become recognized as ‘Japanese’ citizen proper.