Kyungmi Shin: Monster's appetite

Various Small Fires is pleased to present Kyungmi Shin’s solo exhibition in Seoul, featuring all new photographic collage paintings. This will mark the artist’s first solo presentation in Asia and her second with the gallery. 


Originally trained as a sculptor, Shin's current practice is inspired by black-and-white vintage photographs from the artist's family album. She layers historic works from Western art history, such as Edouard Manet's Luncheon on the Grass (1862), and juxtaposes them with traditional East Asian imagery like the buggy-eyed tiger and Bonghwang, a mythological phoenix, from traditional Korean folk painting. The multiple layers of both Eastern and Western imagery invite the viewer to step into the manifold scenes. 


Shin was born to Calvinist Christian ministers in Busan, the stronghold of Buddhism located in the southern coastal region of the Korean peninsula. Reflecting her personal life trajectory of being a religious and racial outsider, the title of the show is drawn from the Pulitzer-winning poet Natalie Diaz's Postcolonial Love Poem. Diaz's text is in tune with Shin's poetic approach to the crossings of West and East, culture collisions, and the personal and universal histories that stay within.  Both artists grapple with the history of colonization, cross-cultural impacts, and immigration, stratified in Shin’s painted photo collages. 


Photos from the artist's family album are — both literally and figuratively— the nucleus of her works. Found in her uncle's home in Busan, the black-and-white photos are placed in the center of the painting with the contours outlined in silver pigment. A group of young people tasting freshly picked strawberries at a farm appear in and the sweet upside-down cake. The composition of the group in the foreground bears an uncanny resemblance with that of Manet's figures painted by the artist herself. In contrast to the scattered mess of the dress and fruits on the bottom left corner, the tomes of stacked books and precious fruits are presented on a table resembling common imagery from Chaekgeori; the 18th-century Korean still-life paintings of books, stationery, luxury goods and gourmet delicacies all neatly arranged. Each element visualizes a vibrant worldliness and is a barometer of the robust worldly trade. 


The amalgamation of seemingly irrelevant visuals in one imagery brings together various narratives embedded in different cultures. Continuing her practice of exploring identity through personal memories, collision of cultures, and historical narratives, Shin’s technique embodies and contextualizes one's experiences within a greater realm of time and space.




Kyungmi Shin (b.1963, South Korea, lives and works in Los Angeles, California) received an MFA from UC Berkeley, CA (1995). Working with painting, sculpture, and photography, Shin explores various histories, identities and migrations by interrogating colonial, capitalist and religious global expansion and its effect. Shin has presented works at Orange County Museum of Art, California; The Berkeley Art Museum, California; Art Sonje Center, Seoul; Japanese American National Art Museum, Los Angeles; and Torrance Art Museum, California. Shin has received numerous grants including California Community Foundation Grant, Durfee Grant, Pasadena City Individual Artist Fellowship and Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Artist in Residence Grants. Her work is part of the permanent collections at the Getty Center, Los Angeles, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. She has completed over 20 public artworks, and her most recent public video sculpture was installed at the Netflix headquarters in Hollywood, CA (2018).