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SETTLEMENT STORY
SETTLEMENT STORY
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This life is not just an opportunity but a miracle.
NKRF Date 2023-12-05 Hit 213

This life is not just an opportunity but a miracle. 

 

Artist Shim Sujin achieved the honor of being selected as a recipient of the North and South Korea Hana Foundation's 'Cultural Content Creation Support Fund' contest. She subsequently hosted a solo exhibition at the Hyehwa Art Center from June 2nd to 7th.

This exhibition marked her third solo showcase, following her previous exhibitions in 2018 and 2022. The theme of the exhibition was 'My Journey of Dreams in the Land of Freedom,' and it featured a diverse range of artistic techniques, including prints, oil paintings, and acrylics.​ 

 

 

After a three-hour car ride from Seoul, the car came to a halt at a container located in a small village in Okcheon. 

Following the artist who had come out to greet me, I was led to her studio, which measured about 350 square feet. To my amazement, I couldn't help but utter a sound of admiration.

Her works, brimming with passion and her soul, adorned the walls and were neatly arranged on the floor.

The word "talent" immediately came to mind as seemingly ordinary materials like leaves, sand, and barley straw were transformed into remarkable pieces of art.

This innate talent, once concealed in North Korea, had now emerged to shine brilliantly and illuminate the entire studio.

Observing the various genres of her work, including self-made pottery, portraits, prints, crafts, oil paintings, and handicrafts, led me to ponder the remarkable journey of her life. 

 

A hobby becomes a job 

Ms. Sujin's exceptional artistic talent led to her assignment as the creator of class posters.

Her teacher noticed her skill and spent a month teaching her to draw, which marked the beginning of her journey with a paintbrush.

This was the sole opportunity she had to showcase her talent while residing in North Korea.

Ms. Sujin, who tragically lost both her parents at the tender age of 13, was raised by her grandmother.

Being the eldest sibling in the family, she felt a profound responsibility to care for her three younger siblings, and this sense of responsibility led her to start a new life abroad in her twenties.

In order to evade the Chinese authorities who were pursuing her, she had to frequently change locations, which ultimately resulted in her losing contact with her family. Their whereabouts remain unknown to her even to this day.

Perhaps it's due to these experiences that some of her artworks reflect her poignant love for her family.

For a decade in China, she worked in various roles, including as a housekeeper, at times as a company employee, and as an assistant in a hotel kitchen.

After working long hours, cutting and cooking food for 15 hours each day, Ms. Sujin discovered her exceptional knife skills.

She found herself handling intricate cutting tasks with relative ease compared to her peers, and this newfound skill became the foundation for her journey into printmaking.

In 2007, a new chapter in Artist Ms. Shim Sujin's life began.

It marked the start of an opportunity to move forward. 

Recognizing her talent in handmade arts, she decided to pursue it. After majoring in Fashion Design and graduating from Korea Polytechnic University, she started looking for a job.

Around this time, a chronic stomach ulcer condition that had troubled her since her college days escalated to the point where she was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis.

This was the signal for her to take the much-needed break that she had postponed for so long.

During this break, as a means to alleviate the emptiness and loneliness she felt, she began attending pottery classes.

She effortlessly produced pottery and carved prints that she loved. 

As her collection of work grew, she fell in love with the world of creative art.

 

Bringing Fallen Leaves to Life 

In 2018, Artist Shim Sujin couldn't let go of her passion for painting, so she resumed her studies at the Department of Painting at Seoul Digital University. 

Her chosen subject matter was fallen leaves.

With limited financial resources for art materials, she saw a deep connection between the fallen leaves and her own life, particularly after receiving the terminal diagnosis of liver cirrhosis.

"I felt like my ailing body was drawing closer to the autumn season with each passing day. 

As winter gave way to spring, new leaves would bud, but for the fallen leaves, it marked the end. 

This made me contemplate how I could breathe new life into these fallen leaves.

I believed that by accomplishing this, I could find a way to live again."

These leaves, although delicate and thin, had the advantage of allowing her to practice without concerns about materials.

She gathered various types of leaves and began the intricate process of carving prints.

Some fallen leaves would easily break with the slightest touch of the knife, while others had a texture that was too resilient, making delicate carving a challenge.

During the carving process, one could only inhale and not exhale, 

as even the subtlest breath could make a difference.

Despite these challenges, she managed to complete her graduation work.

Each piece displayed a level of sophistication that garnered admiration from those who viewed her artwork.

Since it was challenging to convey a wide range of colors using only leaves, the artist broadened her creative horizons by incorporating various materials such as barley straw, sand, and oil painting. 

Despite being diagnosed with severe liver cirrhosis, Ms. Shim Sujin dedicates herself to her work daily, striving to bring her dream to fruition.

In 2020, her doctors informed her that she had approximately one month left to live and advised her to make preparations.

Her son was promptly notified and came to visit her.

Her son who was born in a third country was the only family that she had.

Knowing her time was limited, she had always been a strict mother.

Her wish for her son was to lead a good life after she was gone, but as the end drew near, her heart was filled with anguish.

"I want to live a little longer. I want to see my family in North Korea, and I want to be a good mother. I want to realize my dream of becoming an artist."

Eventually, her son donated his liver, providing her with another chance at life.

While recovering in the ICU after the surgery, her friends rushed to her side and stood by her son until she regained consciousness.

The recovery was slow and gradual,

but the resilience, patience, and determination she had cultivated in her art-making process played a vital role in pulling her through this painful chapter of her life.

Artist Shim Sujin's unique creative techniques and her diverse body of work, which spans various genres including oil painting and sand crafts, bring to mind the old saying, 'a good workman never blames his tools.' 

 

"This life is not just an opportunity but a miracle."

Ms. Shim Sujin says, “This of life is not just an opportunity but a miracle” and shares that she would like to use this second chance to lead a meaningful and worthy life.   

Ms. Shim Sujin expressed the unification and harmony in her work. 

Her work reflects her yearning for her hometown, her desire for reunification, and her aspiration to serve as a bridge for unification as a North Korean refugee artist.

"I'm personally curious about the extent and duration of my creative abilities. 

My desire is to naturally convey thoughts of unification."

Ms. Sujin continues to concentrate on her creative work, 

in preparation for her submission to the <Art Fair Invitation Exhibition> scheduled to be held at the Shilla Hotel from June 30 to July 3, 2023.

I, for one, cannot help but to cheer and support this artist who has been working her hardest to create art with her own unique colors.