Sculpture Magazine / Sep. 2002
Amazed World, United Nations, NY
In his deeply affecting installation Amazed World, which was due to open on September 11 in conjunction with the United Nations¡¯ Special Session on Children, the Korean-born artist Ik-Joong Kang made richly vivid the ever-important connection between art and the world. In the Visitor¡¯s Center, Kang presented 34,000 children¡¯s drawings from 130 countries. The installation abounded with an artistic vision of peace based on the request for children to draw their hopes and dreams for the future.
The UN exhibition was preceded by Kang¡¯s 1999 installation 100,000 Dreams, situated in the South Korean demilitarized zone. There, the artist created a kilometer-long, serpentine vinyl tube filled with three-by-three-inch canvases from South Korean children. The walk-in sculpture was illuminated at night in order to cast a glow that would encourage North Korean children to take notice and participate.
In New York, Kang once again created a global house through which one could literally and imaginatively pass. Amazed World consisted of two corridors, one 10 feet tall, the other 16 feet tall, both made from children¡¯s drawings, mounted to wood blocks (or bricks) and placed against larger, colored background squares representing the colors of the world¡¯s flags.
The walls were supported by five traditional beams to signify the five conceptual directions or ¡°activities¡± of harmony and universe as suggested by the Korean philosophy of Danchung. Each beam was also silk-screened with the five sacred colors of the rainbow, as in Korean temples.
In two of the walls, viewers could gravitate to a cut-out window or hollow, which permitted a view of drawings in the other corridor or of a person passing through, momentarily framed. The cutouts effectively served as ¡°picture¡± windows. On top of one of the walls were what appeared to be sculpted birds of peace. The entire installation was situated between two sculptures in the UN collection: a floating stainless steel rendition of the Sputnik satellite and a bronze Poseidon. The siting fused myths and dreams from ancient through modern times into the future.
In Amazed World, dreams for the future came from children of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, East and West. Many live in areas of profound conflict. One drawing by seven-year-old Ognami, from Togo, is a simple pencil drawing of a house, a square base with a triangle-shaped roof with no color. Karabo, a seven-year-old from Botswana, depicts a girl painting in a lush green field. Nammour, an eight-year-old from Palestine, draws a floating blue Star of David that commingles tank, helicopter, and machine gun. Underneath he writes, ¡°Why did the Iraeleans soldiers kill thes baby?¡±
Kaikio, nine years old, from Japan, draws a child playing piano. Ansah, a seven-year-old from Ghana, draws a pale-yellow fish. Souliman, a 10-year-old from Syria, draws an oversized red apple or tomato set against a saffron-yellow background, with the words ¡°S.O.S. Syria¡± written below.
Undarmaa, 14 years old, from Mongolia, depicts Garbage-strew mountains with the command ¡°Keep off the nature.¡± A child who does not sign his work, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, draws three figures, the first with ears covered, the second with eyes covered, and the third with mouth overed. Above, the child writes ¡°Les tois sages d¡¯Afrique - Sourd, Avengle, Muet.¡± Adanou, an eight-year-old from Togo, draws the simple unadorned outline of a car. It looks like an upside-down frying pan with wheels.
The earnest and varied technical innocence of these drawings make a walk through Kang¡¯s Amazed World captivating and startling. Many of the dreams have, of course, been punctuated by nightmares of pervasive war, famine, disease, and destitution. The drawings are unexpurgated. There is a palpable sense that dreams consist of universals: food and music, animal life and plants, love and friendship, a home with a roof, a car, honesty, freedom, and peace, a drawing, a cerulean blue sky.
Seeing them through reflected in variously placed mirrors, viewers were ineluctably poised to embrace the psyche of their youth and the hopes that might have come with it. In the spirit of a global summit of children¡¯s drawings, Kang is currently working on a project at the site of the former Berlin wall. This new project could teem with the same kind of engaged audiences as those attending this exhibition at the United Nations.