Severance

By  |  March 29, 2018
Archival image (detail) from the Severance project by Katherine Yungmee Kim, winner of CDS’s 2017 Lange-Taylor Prize; katherineykim.com. Archival image (detail) from the Severance project by Katherine Yungmee Kim, winner of CDS’s 2017 Lange-Taylor Prize; katherineykim.com.
 

A Dispatch from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University


 

In the Center for Documentary Studies’ (CDS) first dispatch for The By and By series in 2017, we noted some of our similarities with the Oxford American, as university-affiliated nonprofit arts enterprises in the South with a shared reason for being: the enduring, transformative power of stories. We’re honored to continue our collaboration with such natural partners, and to feature the work of Katherine Yungmee Kim in our first story for this year’s series.

The writer and journalist is the latest recipient of our $10,000 Lange-Taylor Prize, which supports a long-term fieldwork project that uses both words and images in its powerful representation of a subject. Severance, her ongoing exploration of one of the world’s most dangerous geopolitical borders, is a visual “novel” that incorporates text and archival and family photographs to trace a personal and political history of the Korean peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Roughly following the 38th parallel, the 155-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide buffer of land that separates North and South Korea was created as a result of the post–Korean War armistice agreement in 1953. Raised in South Korea and the U.S., Katherine traveled to the area several times as a reporter in the early 1990s, but her more personal interest was sparked by her maternal grandmother’s unfulfilled longing to return to the family’s house on property that was taken after the war and became part of the DMZ.

On a grant-funded trip in 2013 for the 60th anniversary of the armistice agreement, she interviewed people who lived or worked near the DMZ or who traveled there—teachers, an ecologist, a miner, a DMZ historian, soldiers, tourists. She visited sites along the heavily armed and fortified divide—the infiltration tunnels, observation posts, a remembrance museum, an amusement park. Back in the U.S., she interviewed family members and academics “to understand how Koreans regard this area as a symbol/scar of their country’s separation, longing, loss, and suffering.” Millions of Korean families separated during the war have remained forcibly estranged since 1953. An estimated 100,000 Korean Americans are divided family members, with relatives living in North Korea. “I watched as my grandparents’ generation passed away without the chance of ever reuniting,” Katherine writes. The Lange-Taylor Prize will allow her to continue archival work in the U.S. and South Korea and to explore other aspects of the DMZ, which is both a no-man’s-land ecological preserve and site of some of the fiercest fighting in the Korean War.

Following is a selection from Severance, which she hopes to publish as a book. Short nonfiction pieces share a corresponding image that she describes as a counterpoint rather than an illustration, with the archival images and snapshots adding “elements of history and nostalgia to emphasize the division of a nation.” Together, words and images comprise a documentary narrative that delves into “the plight of the modern Korean family and emigration . . . and the larger international and personal implications of borders, civil conflicts, security, freedom and identity.”

Elizabeth Phillips, CDS Communications Director

The Center for Documentary Studies is accepting submissions for this year’s Lange-Taylor Prize through May 15, 2018


This installment of The By and By is curated by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (CDS). CDS is dedicated to documentary expression and its role in creating a more just society. A nonprofit affiliate of Duke University, CDS teaches, produces, and presents the documentary arts across a full range of media—photography, audio, film, writing, experimental and new media—for students and audiences of all ages. CDS is renowned for innovative undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education classes; the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival; curated exhibitions; international prizes; award-winning books; radio programs and a podcast; and groundbreaking projects. For more information, visit the CDS website


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Katherine Yungmee Kim, a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, was raised in New Jersey and South Korea. She studied English literature at Vassar College, Pomona College, and the University of California–Berkeley before receiving her M.F.A. in fiction from the Writing Division at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She has been an editor at the Cambodia Daily, the Pacific News Service, and Alternet; a reporter for the Yonhap News Agency; and a contributing editor to the KoreAm Journal. Kim is also the editor of two publications on immigrant youth communities, Izote Vos: A Collection of Salvadoran American Writing and Visual Art and Quietly Torn: A Literary Journal by Young Iu Mien American Women. Her writing has also appeared in such publications as the Far Eastern Economic Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Newsday, and the Chicago Tribune. She is the recipient of the Time Out Grant from Vassar College in 2013, a New America Media Education Fellowship in 2011, and a Columbia University School of the Arts Chair’s Fiction Fellowship in 2002. Most recently, she has been chronicling the history of Koreatown and Korean Americans in Los Angeles; she is the author of Los Angeles’s Koreatown (Arcadia Publishing, 2011) and the creator of a community photo/oral history project, K-Town Is Our Town. Currently, Kim is the communications editor at the Koreatown Youth and Community Center, the nation’s oldest and largest Korean American nonprofit organization.