Sang Woo Kim's politically charged art explores themes of immigration, discrimination and split identities
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“Going from the way that kids used to look at my eyes and ridicule me to then being given the title of ‘model’ and suddenly being praised for the way that I look; for me that juxtaposition was really fucked up. I started to trust less people, I just didn’t get it.”
Born in Seoul and raised in London, Sang Woo Kim started modelling as a way to put himself through college and “fund his freedom”. The first Korean to walk for Burberry in AW14, Sang has starred in countless campaigns for brands including Diesel, DKNY and Dolce and Gabbana. Where his interests really lie, however, is in art, studying Fine Art at CMS after a brief stint at Goldsmiths.
At the heart of Sang’s work as an artist is the notion of split identities and a search for a sense of belonging as a first-generation Korean immigrant brought up in London. His first solo exhibition If You See Me Now You Don’t opened in Berlin in 2017 and explored themes of identity and immigration.
Since then Sang has continued to make politically-charged art. Last October, for example, amidst Brexit protests and the People’s Vote March in London, Sang and collaborators Darius G Rodrigues, Joshua Chalmers and Axel Lagerborg teamed up to create a giant billboard which they drove around London before displaying it on Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. The billboard read: “U K, U.K?” in front of the EU flag.
What is it you do and why do you do it?
I do many things. I like creating things, whatever that may be, a situation, a meeting, a conversation, a painting, an image, a photograph, an exhibition, a vision. I would say that I am predominantly an artist and I always have been since I was very young. I started modelling to be able to fund my freedom per se which saw a fruitful career. With this fortunate freedom, I have been able to work harder and stronger to explore my art and creations, my vision.
How did you get into it?
I couldn’t tell you, I think with these things, creativity, it’s definitely innate, it’s about an ethos that is predetermined by looking at life with a different kind of sensibility. So I guess I’ve always been doing it and I’ve always been in it.
What’s your career highlight?
This may sound blasé but I would say it is where I am today. No matter if this point is a high or a low or if I’m doing something or not, I appreciate my narrative, good or bad, and how that builds character. I am really just thankful for the career that I have. Every moment was and is and will be important.
Tomorrow you wake up with another face of your choice. Whose is it and why?
Jack Nicholson, could you imagine?
It's 30 years from now. You stumble home at 3am and catch your reflection in the fridge door. What do you look like?
Hopefully, I won’t be stumbling home at 3am in 30 years time but if I do catch my reflection I would hope to be weathered, weathered in that kind of way which shows wisdom and experience.
If you could have a new sense on top of your existing ones, what would it be?
I would like to communicate via emotion and feeling as words can only describe a certain amount.