“I had an abortion. My mother had abortions. My grandmother had abortions, too. Why can we not share this experience?”
Director: Bora Lee-Kil
Producer: Sona Jo / Jia Zhao
Production Country: South Korea, The Netherlands
My first language is sign language. My parents spoke with their hands and facial expressions, not with their lips. I learned it from them. Later, as I grew up, I came to learn spoken language. The Republic of Korea, otherwise known as South Korea is a totalitarian and patriarchal society. Being like others is a virtue. Being different means being excluded. Thus my parents weren’t called deaf but “disabled”, to emphasize that, in the eyes of Koreans, they are physically defective. My parents’ language isn’t a “language”, in the eyes of the outside, but a “gesture” denoting their shortcomings. To me, however, the words of gestures and facial expressions are more important than spoken or written words.
Suffering first from Japanese control and then from the invasion of the Western world, South Korea had to devote itself to the fate of the community as a whole rather than to that of individuals. The country united and rebuilt itself under the ideology of nationalism and collectivism, thus overshadowing any focus on or space for the individual. As the economic situation stabilized after the 1970s, Koreans entered a transition period in which people started to recover their individual selves. As they’d never had a government interested in anything other than the economy, however, they united around the family as source of meaning and support. Korean collectivism as an ideology of community based on the family; a community in which the logic of nation and family are inseparable. In Korea, there’s no place for the individual; an individual is their family.
I have always been interested in memory, and within this particular social-political context, in the memory of those whose voices do not resound in the official, patriarchal language – the voices, for example, of women and deaf. Their memories, their experiences are irrelevant, do not exist. They are different, not part of the national collective memory.
How come these experiences are excluded from our collective memory, why are they merely personal, individual? Why are they silenced? What does their silence imply?
As a child of deaf parents, and as a woman, I experienced that silence too. The language taught in school and society didn’t allow me an understanding of my experience. So I understand what it means not to be heard. Which is why, in my work, I focus on revealing people’s silences, and, more recently, on the memories and language that are inscribed in their bodies.
I started my research into the ways in which history and experience are inscribed into the body by focusing on my own body – as it is the easiest to approach and the most familiar, although I actually never looked at it. I started to ‘read’ the socio-political history in the movements of my body, seeing that the ideas and mechanisms of state and society have become my body’s memory. I examined, in film, how the state is present in my individual movements and gestures and how I can understand the working of power by taking a closer look at how I use, regard and move my body. At the same time, the silence, and the hidden, personal memories that cannot be spoken about and thus have no place in the collective memory, are equally inscribed in the body. The body thus is a space and expression of multiple forces and histories.
On April 11, 2019, the Constitutional Court of South Korea ruled that the current criminality of abortion is incompatible with the constitution. By 2020, the South Korean government must revise the laws on abortion. Nevertheless, talking about abortion is still a taboo in Korea. The project “Our Bodies” causes people to ask questions. What is the “body” of the woman? Why did we have to undergo an abortion? Why hasn’t it been said for a long time? Why was I born and who was not?
Recently, I discovered that the Swedish International Development Agency supplied oral contraceptives to Korea in 1968 and that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided considerable funding for Korea’s birth control policy. This means Korean women have been recipients of Sweden-sponsored, untested contraceptives. Therefore, this project is not limited to the body of a Korean woman, but also linked to imperialism. It will be shown in future projects, which will create social impact and movements in Korea, as well as in European and American societies. A woman’s body is a place which contains hidden and unspoken memories and at the same time a front-line battleground of biopolitics where politics and capital meet.
Project “Our Bodies” was developed within the frame of Artistic Research in and Through Cinema of the MA program in the Netherlands Film Academy.