Missing Persons Project

Missing Persons Project, social intervention ©2005 estherka

Missing Persons Project, social intervention ©2005 estherka

The Missing Persons Project (2005) was a social intervention performed in the Seoul neighborhood of Dongdaemun, where the artist was born. On the eve of her birthday, RHEE and a crew of friends set out with to plaster several hundred missing persons posters of herself around the small hospital where her Korean mother had given birth, (not as was originally believed as a unwed mother, rather as a married woman with a intact family). While managing a birth family search as an artistic intervention, RHEE sought to prove the inherent strength and independent ability of transnational adopted Koreans while creating a platform to discuss issues of overseas adoption and its controversial dilemmas.

The notion of making a missing persons poster of oneself is sadly ironic. The artist was not of course not missing, but wanted to draw attention to the parallel life of herself as a Korean national, which was missing, which could never exist, because of being sent away for adoption. Korean overseas adoption is a form of forced emigration, not only because adopted people do not choose to migrate, but because Korea continues to export 3-4 babies per day*, despite (or shall we say: resulting in) being the 11th economy in the world. In fact, adoption being used as an alternative to creating social welfare services, points to this emphatically being a women and children’s rights issue. In fact, while Korean families (il)legally abandoned their children, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that many families were coerced by the adoption agencies/hospitals themselves, often with the mothers being unaware of the relinquishment. The state then fabricates the child’s status as “orphan” in order to lawfully expedite the export to the Western receiving countries.

In this work, RHEE focused on several goals: raise an awareness of the plight of overseas adopted Koreans and their birth families who must depend on media coverage for reunions, bypass the Korean media and create alternative methods to empower, raise awareness, and reveal the problematic and discordant framing of adoption as a humanitarian gesture, which attempts to obscure the obvious commercial and capitalist nature of the transnational industrial adoption complex.

At the conclusion of her social intervention, RHEE produced an autobiographical video in 2006 called NOH-CHIM (missing), which has deliberately been the last of the works she created about her transnational adoption. Despite being in solidarity with the many adoption rights movements and activists worldwide, she does not identify with the word, Adoptee, and rather recognizes her abandonment and subsequent adoption as a past act that was done to her, but ceases to define her. In addition, parents who choose to adopt have identities outside of this act and are not usually called Adopters; albeit this term is sometimes used (pejoratively) within adoption circles of those who were adopted.

*numbers from 2008 South Korean Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, 2009