by Michael Daly
An interesting thing occurred to me recently while attending an artistic event at The Watermill Center.
South Korean-born Jayoung Chung is a multi-media artist, primarily a visual artist, musician, animator, filmmaker and storyteller.
She has had numerous exhibits and installations performed worldwide. In 2013, she was the Moving Image Director at the Special Olympics Winter Games Opening Ceremony.
On this cold Saturday in the majestic Watermill Center, her performance exhibition was entitled “Empathy.”
About 40 of us sat on pedestals, benches or the floor immersed in her amplified words, sounds and interactive video displayed on a 15 foot high by 25 feet wide screen.
Her story was about a young Syrian man she had met in the war-torn country where he lives. She even brought a pair of his athletic shoes as part of her performance so that we could “walk in his shoes” while the images and electronic sounds of his existence were surrounding us. Talk about Empathy!
About five years ago, while watching PBS, I saw a documentary about South Korean orphans that moved me.
Until recent times, many Korean children who were born to single mothers were exported for adoption, especially to the United States. Seeing adults of European stock with Asian children was quite common in the 1960s and 70s.
You see, I was adopted into my loving family when I was a child, and awareness of adoptees has always been familiar to me. I’ve always been intrigued by similarity or differences of children, parents and grandparents walking down the street together.
In recent years, South Korea has changed their laws regarding exporting unwanted children to the rest of the world.
According to Stephen Evans from the BBC News in Seoul, “The shame of an increasingly affluent and confident country sending its children abroad to find the love denied at home played on the national conscience, so foreign adoption was made much harder.”
But the challenge for unwanted South Koren children is that adoption is still a taboo there, as a result of the importance of bloodline in Korea being “ancient and deep-rooted.” Consequently, orphanages are now brimming with children.
My heart opened for these children, because we all know that growing up in a orphanage is far less healthy than being raised in a family home. I was thinking that I needed to go and do something about this.
Shortly after this, I met Rick Guidotti, who founded Positive Exposure, a non-profit organization that utilizes the visual arts to present the humanity and dignity of individuals living with genetic, physical, behavioral and intellectual differences.
I told Rick about the South Korean orphans and how I wanted to move to South Korea to use photography to raise awareness about their plight and, hopefully help make adoptions of children more acceptable to the Korean people. Rick generously agreed to help me.
Needless to say, this would require me to leave my home, change my life and caused me to look around me and see that many people here, locally who needed love and support.
So back to Jayoung and the Watermill Center. Seeing her come to the US, from South Korea to advocate for a Syrian man and the war-torn Syrian people reminded me of my impulse to reach out to those orphans a few years back.
She seemed both moved and surprised by my story about the orphans in her own native country, just as I have been moved by the plight of people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and victims of domestic abuse in our own local area.
Since that time, I have donated to Positive Exposure and kept tabs on the South Korean orphans’ struggle, however I have significantly increased my commitment of time, talent and treasure to local organizations and people in need.
While I do love the idea of a great adventure that would result in contributing to the benefit of a marginalized population in a far away land, that will have to wait for now. Too many of our neighbors need us here.
Think Globally – Act Locally. Please consider supporting your local organizations that support people in need in our own backyard.