Studio art major Sung Ho Thomas Shin illustrates a chapter in Los Angeles history
The Santa Clara
May 24, 2018
Even from the corner of the gallery Senior Sung Ho Thomas Shin’s massive multimedia work dominates the room.
Shin’s piece incorporated video, audio design, photography and sculpture to create a representation of a liquor store from 1990s Los Angeles. The piece is dedicated to the Korean American community that experienced the 1992 Los Angeles riots after the trial of Rodney King, an African American man who was subjected to brutal treatment by Los Angeles Police Department officers. All of the officers were acquitted of use of excessive force, according to CNN.
Members of the Korean American community were forced to defend their businesses and homes due to a lack of police presence in their neighborhood. Media photographers captured images of armed Korean Americans standing on roofs, defending their livelihoods when no one else would come to help.
Shin’s liquor store calls attention to the environment Kim and other Korean Americans found themselves in.
Though the event is often viewed as a turning point in the relationship between police officers and the African American community, the event also played a major role in the formation of the modern Korean American identity, Edward Taehan Chang, professor of ethnic studies at University California Riverside, told CNN.
“I wanted to show awareness of what really happened during these riots,” Shin said in his artist’s statement. “Throughout my life, whether it was through education or media, I have always seen or been taught that the riots were a feud between the African Americans and the Caucasians.”
Shin isn’t the only creative mind seeking to tell the true story of Korean Americans during this particular historical moment.
The Korean American experience of the riots has recently found other representation in popular culture, such as director Justin Chon’s 2017 film “Gook,” which follows the story of two brothers who must face the consequences of built-up racial tensions in Paramount, California, a city located just south of Los Angeles that was affected by the riots. Chon’s own father’s store was among those looted.
Upon further research, Shin found that the riots had heavily affected the Korean American community as well.
“I decided to build a replica of a liquor store as part of my installment because a lot of Korean American businesses that got devastated were family owned liquor stores. Inside the installment includes 63 bottles, dedicated to the 63 people that have died during these riots.”
A television below the liquor bottles plays reruns of media coverage of the riots in black and white, a choice made by Shin to reflect “the media only showing two sides of the story.”
The piece has an interactive element as well. Next to a chair set within the piece, a pair of headphones hang on a hook. By putting them on, visitors can hear a monologue about the riots spoken in Korean, as well as news coverage in English. The English news broadcast criticizes the Korean Americans defending their stores with firearms. Today, some Korean Americans, such as Richard Kim, are telling their stories to counter the narrative produced by the media.
Kim, a Korean American who arrived at the riots after learning his mother had been shot, believes “Korean Americans who ran small businesses in Los Angeles in the areas where the riots occurred were profoundly misunderstood,” according to ABC News.
Kim was arrested upon arriving at his parents’ store, where two LAPD officers were responding to reports of store owners shooting at rioters.
When the police acknowledged that they would not be returning to respond to the riots, Kim said, “Then you can’t take our weapons. You’ll leave us sitting ducks.”
His legally purchased semi-automatic rifle was silently returned—an acknowledgement of the dire situation Kim and his community found themselves in.
The walls of the interactive area are covered newspaper pages featuring reenacted photos of Korean Americans during the riots, which are intended to reflect how Shin, “as a Korean American that was not alive during the riots, perceive and believe how the riots went.”
The studio art senior show show runs until June 15. The show, which was curated by the art and art history department faculty, is on view in the gallery of the Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History building. Additional student work is on display in the first floor hall.
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