Debbie Han 2016

Debbie Han

United States 1969

Sculpture, Photography

Debbie Han
Debbie Han
United States
March 14, 2016

If we take a quick look at Debbie Han’s sculptures, they may appear very close, if not identical to classical Greek sculptures, made of fine marble. It takes a second look to realize that Han’s sculptures are in fact hybrids – having a body of a typical Asian woman and a face of an idealized Greek sculpture. Han, who is an American-Korean multimedia artist, explores the boundaries between ideal western and eastern beauty in an experimental way, using sculpture, photography, painting and installation.

Debbie Han - Season of Being I, 2014 (2)
Debbie Han – Season of Being I, 2014

Debate on Beauty Standards

Debbie Han was born in Korea and emigrated to the United States, where she obtained a BA in fine arts at the University of California and later on an MA at the Pratt University in New York. Even though she completed her study in the U.S., she decided to go back to Korea to attend an artist residency program. In 2009, Han won the Sovereign Asian Art Award for Seated Three Graces, which is her most prominent work. This series of sculptures opened up a lot of discussions on modern beauty myths and standards and put Han in the limelight of international attention. Her presence in now strong throughout American, Asian and European art scene and auction houses.

Han’s most recent photo series, called Color Graces, hybridizes the bodies of multi-racial and multi-ethnic women with classical sculpture heads, resembling the old Greek statues. These images represent an allusion to the dynamics and politics of the nowadays world. Han’s colorful Graces appear to be paradoxical blends of human and goddess, past and present, ideal and realistic, and they carry a certain emotional drama. They also underline basic human experiences of diversity and reflect on the meaning of being human in the contemporary society.

Han’s hybrid image of classical sculpture with Jewish nose and African lips

Debbie Han - The Eye Of Perception No.6 - 2010 - Photo credit - Ricco Maresca gallery
Debbie Han – The Eye Of Perception No.6, 2010

Quest for the Ideal – Nip, Tuck, Mix

In Korea, around 60% of women undergo facial plastic surgery, with the most common procedures being eyelid and nose corrections. Modern Korean women had set Eurocentric beauty as their long-term goal and Han is depicting their beauty quest using a whole array of unique processes. She is appropriating classical sculptures and images and altering them using a high-end, latest photo manipulation techniques. It’s important to mention that she’s not addressing only Asian women’s appearance and ideals – some of her sculptures and photographs are featuring physical characteristics of African women (full lips) or so-called Jewish hooked noses. Han is taking the appropriation process even further when she uses a classical term Grace or Venus to name her creations representing a contemporary woman’s ideals. She has a series of sculptures with a football stitched to their bust, underlining the idea that the image of contemporary Venus, hence the ideal woman nowadays, is inseparable from sports and wellness. Lastly, Han is not experimenting only with multimedia techniques and ideas, but also with the materials used in her work. For her sculptures made in 2008 the artist used Korean lacquer and mother of pearl, materials which were utilized in Asian arts thousands of years ago. It was a big challenge for Han to incorporate these ancient, traditional materials into modern subjects, but she succeeded in this idea, creating a hybrid beauty, something on the verge of real and imaginary. You can find out more about Han’s work in a recent New York Times review on her exhibition SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity.

Artist’s vision of modern Venus – stitches representing the marks found on footballs

Debbie Han – Sport Venus II (detail), 2008

Social Patterns and Identity

Han’s work is truly valuable not only because of its artistic qualities. The artist’s interest and motivation go far beyond the mere idea of representing the beauty standards. Through her work, Han is investigating questions of identity, social pressure, female psychology as well as social patterns in general. She makes us wonder what’s the origin of our own standards – can we truly separate what is our own opinion and taste from what is dictated by geosocial factors? The best art usually succeeds in raising some non-art questions and that’s the exact case when it comes to Han’s work.

The artist is represented by Ricco Maresca Gallery.

Debbie Han lives and works in New York City.

Featured image: Debbie Han ‘s Portrait, 2016
All images courtesy of the artist.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015The 70th Independence Contemporary Group ShowNational Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, SeoulGroup
2015Here And NowRicco Maresca, NYSolo
2015Ladies’ Knight: A Female Perspective on ChessWorld Chess Hall of Fame, Saint Louis, MissouriGroup
2015The Second Nanjing International Art FestivalNanjing, ChinaGroup
2014Shades of TimeQueens Museum, NYSolo
2014The Armory ShowArmory, NYGroup
2014Private Assembly: A Contemporary CollectionTweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Center, Murwillumbah, AustrailiaGroup
2014Time for a ChangeBraun Falco Galerie, MunichGroup
2013Wonder WorksThe Cat Street Gallery, Hong KongSolo
2013Keep Our Planet AliveSanskruti Bhavan, Goa, IndiaGroup
2013The International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern ArtChicagoGroup
2012BEINGSungkok Art Museum, Seoul Solo
2012Korean Eye: Energy and MatterThe Saatchi Gallery, LondonSolo
2012The Young Masters Art Prize Shortlist ExhibitionSphinx Gallery, LondonGroup
2012Thoughts on BodySeoul Olympic Museum of Art, SeoulSolo
2012The International Photography FestivalJaffa Port, Tel AvivGroup
2011The Eye of PerceptionSanta Monica College Pete and Susan Barrett Gallery, Santa Monica, CaliforniaSolo
2011New AcquisitionMuseum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwachun, KoreaSolo
2010The Eye of PerceptionThe Cat Street Contemporary Space, Hong Kong Solo
2010The Eye of PerceptionMbf-kunstprojekte, MunichSolo
2010The Eye of PerceptionTrunk Gallery, Seoul Solo
2010The Lamp of the East Lalit Kala Academi, MumbaiGroup
2010RemindYoungeun Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwangju, KoreaSolo
2009Hybrid GracesLA Contemporary, Los Angeles Solo
2009Dissonant VisionsSeoul Museum of Art, SeoulSolo
2009The Body SpeaksTouchART Gallery, Heiri Art ValleySolo
2008The Border of VirtualityHanjiyun Contemporary Space, BeijingGroup
2008Todd Williamson/ Debbie HanLA Contemporary Art, Los AngelesGroup
2007DEBBIE HANGaleria Punto, Valencia, Spain Solo
2007To the Furthest VergeI – MYU Projects, LondonGroup
2006Visions of BeautyFreddie Fong Gallery, San Francisco Solo
2006DEBBIEHANGallery Sun Contemporary, Seoul Solo
2006Made in KoreaGallerie Martine et Thibault de la Chartre, ParisGroup
2005Reinventing HeritageHangaram Art Museum, SeoulGroup
2004Idealistic OddityBrain Factory Gallery, Seoul Solo
2002Juried Alumni ExhibitionPratt Manhattan Gallery, New YorkGroup
2002L.A. PortraitsAngels Gate Cultural Center, San Pedro, CaliforniaGroup
2001KAFA Award for Visual Arts ExhibitionKorean Cultural Center Gallery, Los AngelesGroup
2000ART2000: Applauding Revolutionary TalentMillard Sheets Gallery, Pomona, CaliforniaGroup