Having a dream is a powerful motivator. Sunwha Gil, whose art has recently hung in the Gardiner Library Community room, had such a dream. A native of South Korea, Sunwha visited this country when she was 20 and toured Stanford University in California with a friend. The trip inspired her to dream of studying in America where she felt women had more opportunities than were currently available in her native country.
“American women have stronger and clearer voices and the ability to choose their own lives. So I decided that I would go to an American college someday,” Sunwha clearly states. And, indeed, that’s exactly what she did. With her young son, Sunwha moved to the United States in 2006. She had earned a BFA in Oriental painting in Seoul, Korea, continued her education at SUNY New Paltz where she earned a degree in Art Education, and then completed a Masters Degree in Humanistic Multicultural education. Sunwha is now a certified NYS art teacher (K-12) but in today’s economic climate jobs in her chosen field are scarce.
When she arrived in the United States Sunwha’s student visa obligated her to attend school full time. She enrolled in classes at SUNY, New Paltz and, knowing very little English, also enrolled in their English As A Second Language Institute. (Imagine finding yourself in a new country, responsible for a small child and knowing very little of the language!) Learning English and speaking it well continue to be a challenge for Sunwha, but her son, now in the 8th Grade in New Paltz, she explained proudly, speaks without an accent. She sadly adds that he is losing his native Korean language for lack of use.
Sunwha misses her family in South Korea. “A foreigner moving to another country is looking for an identity,” Sunwha explains. Her art is an expression of the struggle for that identity. She speaks of loneliness and the difficulty of straddling different cultures. Yet her art looks for the connections and finds similarities among cultures and traditions, combining the traditional with aspects of the new culture she has chosen for herself and her son.
“I have good friends and have met good people,” Sunwha adds, smiling. She volunteers at the Elting Library in New Paltz and is currently giving instruction in Oriental Brush Painting at the Gardiner Library where her class is so popular that a second and third group are planned. Perhaps part of the appeal is that birds are frequently represented in Sunwha’s paintings. “When you’re a bird, you can fly anywhere, see everything,” she says by way of explanation. “And visit Korea anytime,” she adds. Yet, despite the loneliness and difficulties, Sunwha loves her new home. “I have fallen in love with the beauty of nature here and the people since I moved to this area. New Paltz is my second home now. I love being here.”
To see Sunwha’s paintings check local listings for exhibit venues. For art instruction, sign up at the Gardiner library, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.