Women on the Edge of Time

Stephanie Lee

Beautiful Lady Smile

2020, color pigment, natural mineral pigment, ink on linen 25″(H) x 17″(W)

I reinterpret Korean Folk Art painting called minhwa by putting modern objects in traditional settings.  

I smile a lot. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I prefer people who smile than frown. However, I’m so used to smile all the time, I even smile when I’m in disagreement or refusal. And that’s not okay. 
I think my default smiley face is rooted in Asian culture that emphasizes politeness, but more of it is a result of living a life as a female. 

In this painting, I recreated Munjado, one of the genres in minhwa that depicts Confucian virtues in the form of letters. Using both Korean and English characters with contemporary jewelry and diamonds, it contains a message about female gender identity and equity.

Diamonds represent pure goodness in my work. They are the result of carbon atoms being placed under conditions of extreme pressure and heat. Instead of being destroyed, the carbon became something beautiful and strong that reflects light that shines on others. Thus, diamonds can symbolize the positive human spirit that overcomes life’s hardships and obstacles. This was the same quality I found and valued in minhwa that were created and shared throughout many wars. And it also resembles women who bear all the hardships and still put smiles on their faces and trying to give more to their loved ones despite the unfairness and obstacles.

Video Short by Stephanie Lee