Hyung-min Yoon’s installation is a striking example of the power of text-based art. Outwardly simple looking, the installation embodies layers of meaning that extend far beyond its surface.
As a part of Canada's 150 anniversary celebrations, the South Asian Canadian Histories Association (SACHA) held an exhibition of art works curated by Raghavendra Rao K.V. in Vancouver's historic Punjabi Market area, a historic 5-6 block shopping area located in Vancouver's south side.
Artist Hyung-min Yoon created a 50-meter banner, black text on a white background, wrapped around a construction fence at the south-west corner at 49th Avenue and Main Street, referring to and appropriating Franz Kafka's text from Before the Law.
In Kafka's parable, Before the Law, a man tries to gain admission to a desired entrance. The gatekeeper never grants him entry. The "l" in "Law" is capitalized but does it refer to a legal system, or to something else. Much has been written about the parable.
The border which Yoon's installation marks, between the Punjabi Market and the rest of Vancouver, is a part of the dialogue between identity, migration, memory and meaning.
Yoon draws upon the multiple possible readings of Kafka's text to create yet more layers by changing the protagonist from a man to a woman. This change, for Yoon, relates back to the context of the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, and the women aboard the ship whose passengers were denied access to land due to racist immigration policies. These policies were, in turn, related to issues of indigenous genocides, empire, white supremacy, and Canada being a settler colony. These policies not only applied to the Komagata Maru but were the prevalent law at that time.
Yoon's art reflects her own journey of migration and cultural translation. For her, the border which her installation marks, between the Punjabi Market and the rest of Vancouver, is a part of the dialogue between identity, migration, memory and meaning. De-centering the male, with the female protagonist provides for a feminist reading of the text, while the geographic locus of the installation references multiple histories and a changing urban fabric.
Walking down the street, reading the text on the installation banner, the viewer is left with a distinct impression of physical movement, but the text interrogates how little things have moved in terms of the law and the current context of Western nations closing borders at a time when more than 60 million people are displaced and on the move. An ocean of humanity continues to wait for the gatekeepers to say "yes".