I aboriginal met Jiha Moon in 2000 back she was a alum apprentice in the MFA affairs in accomplished art at the University of Iowa. Although she hardly shows in New York, I accept approved to accumulate up with her career. In 2012, Moon was awarded a alive artist’s admission from the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, which she acclimated to assurance up at a bounded adobe flat in Atlanta and actualize imaginative, nonfunctional, vessel-like forms that humorously amalgamate aspects of Western and Eastern culture. In 2014, she showed a accumulation of these at Ryan Lee Gallery, but she has not apparent in New York since. This is why I was absorbed in the exhibition Jiha Moon: Enigmatics at the Project Room of Derek Eller arcade (January 4 – February 2, 2020).
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Moon, who was built-in in Daegu, South Korea in 1973, came to America afterwards she had accustomed a BFA and MFA in Korea in the backward 1990s. She was in her mid-20s back she confused to America, area she has lived and formed for the accomplished 20 years. I don’t anticipate it is an exaggeration to say that her activity could be disconnected into two audible periods.
It is accessible for addition built-in in addition country to move to the US and, culturally speaking, become American. But it becomes harder as anniversary year passes, as added and added of your bearing country, culture, and accent become allotment of you; you allotment aggregate acquaintance with others of your generation. You don’t get to alpha over back you backpack to a new country with a altered language, culture, and customs, alike admitting that is absolutely what you charge do.
Moon’s assignment conveys a activity of dislocation, of not acceptance in America or Korea. This activity is apparently affronted by our accepted situation: As the President has fabricated bright on abundant occasions, and all too abounding bodies accede with him, either you are American or you don’t accord here; there is not abundant average ground.
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What is arresting to me about Moon’s assignment is that it does not absolutely fit into the New York art world’s accepted apropos with ancestral and indigenous character because, as far as I can tell, this art apple has never addressed issues of Asian cultural dislocation, nor accustomed Asian artists active in America, abnormally if they are alive in acceptable modes, such as drawing, painting, and, in Moon’s case, ceramics.
In Moon’s over-the-top ceramics, we appointment a cross-pollination or amalgam of two cultures. Along with bringing calm aspects of aerial art, low art, kitsch, and the continued history of images, motifs, and aliment alertness that anesthetized amid East and West, she is aggressive by Mexican, African, and Hopi Kachina masks, and has abstruse about allegorical creatures in assorted cultures and environments.
While Moon’s masks may owe article to her acquaintance with Korean shamanism and theater, she makes no absolute advertence to these. In fact, she seems to admit that time, history, and clearing accept had an immense appulse on notions of civic character and culture. For instance, the affluence cookie — which is all-over in Chinese restaurants and is begin in bowl anatomy in a cardinal of Moon’s works — may accept been alien into America from Japan; there is annihilation like a affluence cookie in China but article agnate can be begin in Shinto shrines and temples in Japan.
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In the affectation “Blue Mustache” (2019), Moon has added a chicken affluence cookie aloft anniversary eyehole. Acquired from Roy Lichtenstein’s august yellow-and-black brushstroke, which aboriginal appeared in his assignment in 1965-66, Moon depicts a circumscribed articulation of a analogously black brushstroke beneath the average of the lower lip, suggesting a chiffon beard. Back both the affluence accolade and “beard” are yellow, what chase is actuality evoked, decidedly back the mustache is blue? What about the amber cobweb ascent from abaft the mask’s forehead?
In the abundantly white “Husk Wraith” (2019), we see a cardinal of eyes accumbent vertically, with orange, blue, and amber pupils. By authoritative masks possessing no bright ancestral or indigenous identity, Moon explores the slippage amid what we see and what she is representing. This gap is important to accept because it calls into questions assumptions we ability accomplish about addition else.
At the aforementioned time, this is alone a baby allotment of what the masks are about. I anticipate Moon is in blow with the otherworldliness of masks, and how they can affix admirers to the worlds of allegory and shamanic ability and dreams. By bringing calm adumbration and forms acquired from altered cultures and art actual traditions, she reminds that America was already accepted as “a melting pot.” The assignment is funny and idiosyncratic, but not eccentric.
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Moon’s freestanding argosy generally feel like astonishing presences. “Peach Wind” (2019) has ample orange-red aperture and bluish-tinged teeth. There is one eye on the ancillary with a ample orange eye-lid that looks like a cantankerous amid a baseball cap and a animation duckbill. Are the clenched teeth an adumbration of acrimony or centralized backbone or both?
Whether it is a affectation or a vessel, Moon’s works contains multitudes of altered overlapping allusions and evocations. However, I consistently feel she knows absolutely back to stop and how abundant abrogating amplitude to leave for the eyewitness to apperceive all the juxtapositions and accomplish distinctions. She is not absorbed in cutting the eyewitness with stuff.
That Moon’s assignment does not fit into the accepted arena — who abroad is authoritative masks and vessels while apropos to Asian accepted ability and Pop art? — marks how acutely she has authentic a area that is alone hers. The actuality that Moon has not apparent consistently in New York is a burlesque that reveals how aesthetics and racism are still affirmed in this town.
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Jiha Moon: Enigmatics continues at Derek Eller Arcade (300 Broome Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through February 2.
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