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Food Directory: To find hidden trace


Encounting Joseonjok immigrants in London, who seemed eager to earn money outside their land, I found myself confronting one of the most profound problems created by globalization. That is, joseonjok are often defined as either Chinese as political perspective, or Korean as ethnic perspective. It is a conventional way of affiliating minority into majority, however, they are neither Chinese nor Korean. Many people just do not fit comfortably into the racial and ethnic frames which higher institutions and agencies subscribed for them.

Jan Un Kim, who is currently the director of national museum of modern and contemporary art, Korea claimed that foreigners working in Korea can be seen as X, ‘X is invisible, but exists, X is nameless, but has a name, X is alive but dead’. I completely agree with what he said. Joseonjok here are like X in London. Joseonjok are hidden/ invisible in our society, but exists. They do not only exist, but played a big role since 1990 to make what we have now around New Malden. When South Koreans refused to do backbreaking manual works, it was Joseonjok people who worked (and still working) at construction sites and restaurants with cheap labour. Joseonjok are nameless normally being called as Mr. or Madame in here, but they are ‘somebody’ to ‘someone’ as  father and mother, son and daughter. Joseonjok are of course alive but live like dead.

Helping passive Joseonjok to speak out their voice and encouraging them to find their culture, I have been developing my conceptual framing through studying Homi Bhabha’s in-between-ness. Considering that ethnicities are not as habitually distinct or as perpetually separated, many places and people including me exist ambivalently in displaced third spaces. It is locating ourselves within in-between forms of supposed difference. Therefore, my approach is to re-frame Joseonjok especially immigrants in the UK as a unique ethnicity and to explore how Joseonjok in London have transforming their lives and culture in the third space that of New Malden, London.

To do so, I have been making Joseonjok’s home food especially mandu (dumpling) with my Joseonjok interviewees. Using ‘local ingredients’, I made the food with/for Joseonjok that tastes most likely as their home-food. They do have food that is not Korean, but not Chinese. However, mostly working for Koreans in the UK, they don’t get a chance to cook their own food but in Korean style, as if, Korean style-food is better then theirs. However, it is not about which is better or not, but the preference of tastes due to majority of people. Substituting ingredients into the ‘local’ components are the key to this work, the process of finding similar ingredients that are only from UK.

I assume that the upcoming exhibition Beyond the borders, the artists consisting of both Koreans and Chinese, could be an interesting group to trace Joseonjok in the UK. Opening a workshop for artists and public to have an opportunity to make/taste Joseonjok mandu will be my next step.

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