Exhibition Catalog / 2001

Amazed World, United Nations, NY

Soon-Young Yoon



December 1999, Ik-Joong Kang, a New York based Korean artist, worked with children from South Korea to create "100,000" Dreams." Thousands of children's miniature drawings styled in his signature 3 inch x 3-inch canvases were displayed inside a one-kilometer vinyl tube in the wasteland of the South Korean demilitarized zone. At night, the gigantic tube lit up like a fat glowworm, hoping to attract North Korean children on the other side to come out and play.


By including children's drawings from all around the world, "Amazed World" expands upon the meaning of "10,000 Dreams." The occasion is the United Nations Special Session on Children, an event that brings together head of state or government, non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and advocates of children's rights. In the visitors' lobby of the United Nations in New York, nearly 34,000 children's drawings from over 125 countries are incorporated into Kang's artistic installation. Displaying the primary colors of the world's flags, three parallel walls proudly hold the children's drawings. Overhead, the sterling silver Sputnik from Russia shines like a robot moon. Near a mural on a back wall, a statue of Greek god hurls his lance across time. The installation complements the setting. In Kang's "Amazed World," the past and future merge with timeless hopes and dreams.


The two exhibit entrances allow the viewer to choose a course of travel. You can peer through a window and imagine which drawings make up a spontaneous canvas. Overhead are beams, reminiscent of a Korean temple silk-screened with the five scared colors of the rainbow and the five directions of traditional Korean cosmology. You may want to start at the shorter end of the ten-foot wall and work your way to the 18-foot high hallway, so that you senses gradually adjust to the towering scale of the collection contained in this unusual archive.


If you listen closely, you can hear the murmur of children's voices from behind the paintings talking to you and to each other. Kang speaks of these painting as if they were children attending a virtual international festival. His letter to the children said: "Hello! I would like to gather all of your dreams for the future and show them in one place so everyone can see! What is your dream? I am very curious about how you imagine your future, the future of our world. Do you dream from the mountains? Maybe you dream from you home near the ocean, or desert, or city with tall buildings." An Azerbaijan girl drew a picture of her wish for a baby brother. Other drawings depict Ugandan children at school, a Portuguese circus and its lion, a Nigerian doctor helping children, and a Sri Lankan astronaut. The messages are likewise varied: "Fly in airplane and jump," "World Photographer," "I love USA," "Bahamas," and "True Love Fashion magazine." Kang assembled these imaged randomly. It would be unthinkable for him to restrict their freedom. He believes that respect and continual commitment are the two essential expressions of love that these children deserve.


With children's participation as its core message, "Amazed World" stimulated a global response. The Muscogee Creek Nation Tobacco Prevention and Control Program contributed drawings from Native American children. Drawings by disabled children and orphans came from Croatia's UN Permanent Mission and its Ministry of Social Welfare. The National Guidance and Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda as well as the Center for Human Environment in Ethiopia sent drawings that reflected a world free of HIV/AIDS. There are drawings by refugees from Azerbaijan and drawings by slum children who had never even painted before from GROOTS in Kenya. One schoolteacher in Switzerland organized all her students to draw, and China is planning a national competition for its young contributors.


As the dead line for submission approached, a girl from Ghana who had missed the date wrote: "My mother is everything I have on this Earth. Just a month ago I lost my one and only sister. Now, art is my life. The purpose of writing you is to plead you with you to give me another chance because I was among those in the art competition." She didn't have to ask; Kang accepted all drawing as if they were his own. As he put it, "We are all connected. I am relieved that I am not alone. I am a part of these children, and they are a part of me." Kang did not want the project to become a global competition.


Paintings continue to pour into his studio. "Amazed World" is an evolving work, a distinct maker in the changing vision of his art and the artist's role. Gone are the themes of cultural adaptation seen in earlier works like "8490 Days of Memory," when his own life was the rich text of his artistic diary. In this international series, Kang has stepped back and put children's own voices forward. Yet the role of the artist is not just as a curator; he has his own dream to fulfill. As he explained to the children, "If you send your dream I will use it like a brick making a big bridge for people to cross over into the future." This exhibit is another stop in journey across a bridge of hope, led by a humble pied piper named Kang.