Lee Sunmin takes the Korean family and the place of women within the family as the subject of her photographs. In Korea’s strongly male-dominated society women must take responsibility for running the house, bringing up children, and performing ceremonial duties, yet they have little authority within the family structure. What happens when the women in this rigid system are not Korean? Lee explores that question in her series Translocating Women.
Women from Vietnam and Cambodia come to Korea to marry Korean men who have been unsuccessful in finding brides. Economically oppressed in their home countries, these women find material wealth in Korea as they take on the role of wife and mother. Yet, they are true outsiders in ethnically homogeneous Korean cities, confronting barriers of race and language as well as gender. Lee often photographs them with objects that describe the ways they negotiate two cultures. Kim Hyeonjeong surrounds her two daughters with souvenirs from Southeast Asia, yet they are dressed in immaculate matching outfits. She herself holds a smartphone.
As the critic Young Min Moon writes, “How are we as viewers supposed to listen to the silence of and difficulty experienced by the women in Lee’s photographs, whose gazes meet us halfway through the lens of the camera?”
Lee Sunmin. Born in Seoul, South Korea, 1968. Lives and works in Seoul. Kim Hyeonjeong and her children from the Translocating Women Series (#23). 2012. Ink jet print. Courtesy of the artist. ©2015 Lee Sunmin.