The artist has crafted an intriguing series of self-portraits that are so diverse, you might not recognize them as self-portraits without a hint.
Minjee Hwang Kim: We Them Girls 18.2.2024 at TM gallery (Erottajankatu 9 B). Tue, Thur, Fri 12–17, Wed 12–18, Sat 11–16, Sun 12–16.
In Minjee Hwang Kim’s (b. 1991) drawing Warm (2024), a torrent of tears flow from a young woman’s eye. Instead of falling down her face, they morph into bubbles that float towards the night sky, linking the bright full moon in the backdrop to the gently dripping chain.
Through her series of self-portraits, Kim’s exhibition We Them Girls at the Tm gallery explores the blurred line between reality and fantasy. Hailing from South Korea and a 2019 graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kim creates self-portraits where everyday items merge with the magical.
The eyes of the characters often act as portals between daily life and fantasy. In the piece Baton (2023), a young woman’s gaze glows with flames while she holds an unlit match. The boundary between fantasy, self-perception, and reality is significantly stretched in the work Study (Bear) (2023), where the character’s face is covered in coarse hair, morphing the person into an animal.
Even this piece is revealed as a self-portrait upon close observation. The artist discloses in the exhibition text that a small mirror reflected in the pearly eyes was the starting point for each creation.
Alongside the mirror, Kim offers viewing instructions from Haruki Murakami’s works. The Japanese Murakami is renowned for his magical realism and fusion of Japanese and Western elements.
The art pieces, based on the western tradition of self-portraits, evoke manga and anime with their vibrant, inviting colors and wide-eyed characters. The nature motifs and compositions occasionally reflect the Japanese woodcut tradition.
The smooth, wood-colored surfaces of the works and the meticulously composed shapes communicate a meditative tranquility, despite the playful subjects. Haircut Dayssa (2023) simultaneously embodies humor, playfulness, and innocence.
On a deeper level, the works navigate the implications of observation: the artist views herself in the mirror, but illustrates a fantasy, and the viewer observes the artist’s self-portrait but perceives cultural tensions.
In the inaugural piece of the exhibition Self-portrait in the Studio (2023), the artist assumes a pose reminiscent of actor Sandra Oh. Adjacent to it is the earliest piece from the collection, Self-portrait as a Kitchen Worker (2020), where a politicized face mask from the corona pandemic steals the spotlight.