Hyunjung Ahn: What I Wanted to Say
"What I Wanted to Say"
Brooklyn-based artist Hyunjung Ahn talks about her inspirations in female artists and how the obstacles she faced when coming to New York City changed her style and outlook.
I met with Hyunjung at her studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Located in Trestle Gallery, it was home to many other artist studios but also provides exhibition space to their residents, educational classes, critiques, and art talks. Hyunjung and I sat down to talk about a series of paintings she had done that focused around obstacles we would face when moving to a new environment and learning its culture and language. The series, titled ‘What I Wanted to Say,’ was Hyunjung’s perspective on her struggles of learning to be American and finding herself in a new city.
Hyunjung was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea and studied art throughout much of her time at school. “I always told myself that I wanted to be an art teacher. Thinking back on it, it was a safe and rational decision. I wanted to know there would be stability in life. But when I came to New York City, a lot of my mindset changed.” Coming to New York gave Hyunjung time to work on her art as a painter but also gave time for her to reflect on her future. While figuring out what she wanted to do Hyujung asked herself ‘what is the female artist’s life?’
We try to find people, be it family, friends, or figures we respect, that have gone through a similar phase where they also asked themselves where they see themselves. For Hyunjung her figures were Eva Hesse, Lygia Pape, Georgia O’Keeffe, Agnes Martin, and Yang Hae Gyu. “Growing up and time away from home made me reflect on my identity. I asked myself who I should be as a person, as a painter, and as a woman. That was why I gravitated toward these female artists. To me these artists gave me guidance personally and artistically. These women experimented with different medium and styles. They were not limited to a single style to express themselves.”
During this time of learning who she was Hyunjung also struggled with assimilating into American culture, most notably the language barrier that came with moving to a new country. Communication was limited and out of her frustrations was when she started ‘What I Wanted to Say.’ “Communicating with people always felt like I had to put a mask on. It always felt like a façade to hide what I was truly feeling. This was when I started experimenting with abstract shapes and expressionism. I feel like I was finally able to say what I truly felt. Because abstract expressionism is not limited to objects representational of life my thoughts were able to come out through this series.”
I asked Hyunjung what her next steps were after this series. “I know I am not the only that went through this. The next project will focus on other people and their struggles of living in America. It’ll be called ‘What They Wanted to Say.’” The series was still in its early stages of conception but Hyunjung noted that it will focus on the names of people that participated in the project.
I circled back to who she found motivational besides the female artists she mentioned. “My mother is always pushing me even today. She was very supportive when I wanted to change my career from being a teacher to a painter. She would even call me to check up on if I had painted that day or just asked how my day was. My grandfather is also someone who deeply shaped me as an artist. Being by myself in New York, it made me feel vulnerable and weak at times but with them I always had a guiding light.”