IN CONVERSATION | PAINTER- MINJOO KIM

05.08.20

“And when I go for the exhibitions at like Tate or, you know, big galleries, I’m always really impressed when I see there’s such a wide range of age in the audience. So yeah, as an artist it’s such a brilliant environment for me to share my work and thoughts.” -Minjoo Kim

Minjoo Kim is a London-based narrative painter who was born and raised in South Korea. Kim’s work addresses the formatin and re-negotiation of cultural identity, drawing from her own experience growing up in a conservative Korean context.

Since moving to London in 2016, Kim was confronted with a radically unfamiliar cultural environment which led to a range of new perspectives on beauty, femininity, and social relations. Her ongoing research is the result of this continually expanding focus, encompassing a broad investigation of the social and political issues surrounding the identity of women, particularly from her own East Asian milieu. The subjects of her paintings, primarily women, are drawn from real-life but depicted in an imaginary setting, or as Kim describes it, ‘a virtual narrative’. [minjookim.net]

What is your definition of studio space?

I have a studio in East London, my studio is one of the Bow Arts buildings. I think I feel like my studio space is the place that I can purely, completely focus on myself and I can be isolated from the outside world, so I can be completely alone in a good way. And then focus because my work is mainly about, you know, defining my identity and just observing myself as a female Asian artist in a different culture. 

Collaborative communal studio spaces are on the rise. Do you believe this formula can work? 

Yeah, absolutely. My first memory of studio space was when I was doing my Master’s Course at UAL and back then, I was given this little studio space of my own. It was like an open space form, where I had my own space obviously, and it opened up to other spaces at the same time. I have so many amazing memories about it. And I know it’s very ideal having your own space where you can concentrate on your own work, but if you can still have those little opportunities to share your ideas, and communicate and discuss with others, I believe that must be even more productive. When you work as an artist in a big art scene, like in London, sometimes it’s all about, you know, gathering information, exchanging information about what’s going on, what shows are on, and that can be a good option for you to find a space or to find a good opportunity for certain exhibition. So sometimes communication with artists in person is way more helpful than you know doing it from the internet. Yeah, so I do believe that formula can work.

Do you believe that London has an impact on your art?

Yeah, I do believe that a hundred per cent.

I moved to London in 2016; back then I lived in South Korea and that was one of the reasons why I decided to move to London because obviously London is one of the big cities of the contemporary art scene. You can see countless diverse and influential exhibitions here. So I can say the whole city is a great inspiration. 

But from my perspective, which is from outside of the UK, I love the fact that people’s attitude towards art is very different here. For example, in South Korea, or in other East Asian countries, art is still a culture for wealthy people or considered as something difficult, something that is not very related to your daily life. I know it’s still changing, but there’s still a gap I guess. But here in a city like London, I think ours is taken as something very natural to our lives. Just part of the culture. And like, when I go for the exhibitions at like Tate or, you know, big galleries, I’m always like, really impressed when I see there’s such a wide range of age in the audience. So yeah, as an artist it’s such a brilliant environment for me to share my work and thoughts.

Would you consider moving outside of the city?

Not yet to be honest, because I’m the person who has already had a big move to London. I literally moved my entire life to a different culture. So I think I’m still in the middle of enjoying the newness and the strangeness here. I just want to wait and see what’s going to happen to me next. And of course, you never know where and when I want to change my base again in the future.

How do you think it would impact your work if you were to move out of London?

That impact is something that I’m experiencing now, I think in the present time here. Because my work has always been about defining my identity based on where I belong and which society I belong to. Changing the society or cultural background you’re living in is always a very interesting test, like experiment to my practice. So yeah changing the environment would be from my will, but how that affects my work is something that happens naturally, something you can’t plan. So yeah, I still enjoy observing  those changes and progress in my work, I guess.

What do you think the future of studio space will look like? 

I think even for now, that the definition or form of the studio, it’s I think it’s still very diverse. And personally, I experienced like this one little wall space in my uni.  And I used to work in this, like warehouse type of studio. Now I’m in this individual room in a studio building. So I think it’s still changing and I think it’s going to be more diverse in the future. And sometimes I think the basic influence is up to like the artist’s work itself and maybe not based on the space. So artists should be the ones who are working in the change of the future of studio space. 

And I know you just moved, but are there any experiences or hardships that you’ve had that you think might drive you out of London versus keeping you here? 

I think it’s really important to keep suggesting more diverse, creative ideas for space, but obviously, you know, I think if someone has the difficulty of remaining in London as an artist, maybe it’s because none of them are quite affordable here. So I guess we need to think more like different types of studio, more creative types of studios. And be affordable at the same time, that is really important to artists. So for example, one of these spaces I mentioned that I used to work in, It used to be a really huge warehouse, but they installed lots of walls in there. So if you’re working in like a studio space and you have your own space, but you can still communicate with other artists in the other room or in the next room, but when you’re having like events like an open studio, it basically looked like a really big Art Fair kind of environment. So I kind of really missed that. I thought it was quite creative and it’s like a good example of how you could utilise those big spaces in a city like London.

So then how do you think artists can collaborate and communicate with developers in London to try to maintain that cultural community?

I think when it comes to communication, I think it’s all about arranging some regular events to give opportunities to talk to each other and to share information. For example, in Bow Arts, where I’m working, we have this regular, like annual open studio thing. It’s basically the idea of just open up all the artist’s studios to the public, but it’s also a really good opportunity for them because all kinds of art-related visitors come in. It can be space developers, or it can be curators, or it can be writers or other artists. So it’s just a one-day event, but I always find it really helpful to my practice, because I can have this chance to meet different people from different backgrounds that I don’t’ usually have a chance to meet and talk. So yeah, if we can have the kind of little community or just regular events that make people hang out together and just share their ideas, that would be the ideal.