ART News
27th June 2022 | Guest Writer: Rachele Rosina
Guest writer Rachele Rosina introduces the Korean artist who is becoming a leading voice among the LGBTQIA+ community in Seoul.
Nowadays, being queer is not illegal in South Korea. However, similarly to many other countries, the community still sees a lack of protection against sexual orientation-based discrimination, and marriage and adoption are denied to homosexual couples.
Queer visibility is one of the main themes observed in the work of queer millennial artists. Artists of this generation, who grew up amid the opening movement towards the LGBTQIA+ community, are becoming their own spokespersons.
Among the loudest voices is the one of Choi Haneyl, born in 1991 and Seoul-based. His sculptures examine the collision of traditions and taboos with queer liberation and self-expression.

For example, in 2018 for his first international exhibition at Commonwealth and Council (Los Angeles), Choi Haneyl used a byung-poong, a folding screen traditionally used to divide a room, to bridge LGBTQIA+ identity and national pride. In Traitor’s Patriotism, the folding structure of the screen is the only characteristic that links it back to its traditional use. With its bold colours and provocative shapes, the screen no longer divides or hides, but it is the main protagonist of the room. By choosing an object with a rich history and deep cultural meanings, the artist showed his attachment and devotion to his nation. At the same time, as he twists it to express his own reality, he betrays it.

"Traitor's Patriotism", Haneyl Choi, 2018. Courtesy of Commonwealth and Council.

Choi Haneyl considers himself an artist, not an activist. As such, he relies on his practice to bring the neglected story of the LGBTQIA+ community to the world, constantly exploring new creative methods and possible expressions. His artworks offer a glance at the Korean queer culture, an opportunity to peep into a world still covered by taboos.

An example is Bulky, the recent solo exhibition at Arario Museum in Space (Seoul, 2/9/2021- 6/3/2022), where the artist lets the viewer into the gay male bodybuilding culture. At first glance, the sculpture might look like abstract shapes, but the viewer is invited to look further - soon, the indistinct forms will start to suggest more specific figures: men exercising in a visionary gym.

"Bulky_fusion 1", Haneyl Choi, 2021, metal, thigh bands(satba). Courtesy of the artist.

The show borrows its name from the title of the artworks: Bulky_sex (combine) 3, Bulky_sex (combine) 1, Bulky_fusion 1 are some of the sculptures that occupy the galleries. As suggested by the titles, they are a reminiscence of the endeavour of many men of the gay community to be “bulky”: by adding pieces of material to the statues, the artist mimics the bodybuilders’ efforts.
At the same time, they are also a hint of the queer aspect that the artist finds in common things and activities: for example, Korean wrestlers are translated in Choi’s sculptures as giant Hangul letters ㅅ (siot) leaning on each other and wearing wrestles belts, in an erotic fusion of bodies.

In his practice, the artist is able to suggest sexuality, avoiding falling into obscenity, allowing the viewer to get closer to the artwork without intimidation. For example, in the artwork He can't forget those memories, a rectangular block with impressions as if a rope had been tightened around it, is a parody of Minimalism sculpture that allude to sadomasochistic practices instead.

"He can't forget those memories", Haneyl Choi, 2021, chrome-plated FRP, Courtesy of P21.

Again, in Your mirror a similar chrome-plated block takes the place of a man, showing a phallic protuberance at the centre of the column. At the same level on the back of the sculpture, traces of hands printed on the reflective surface are hits of an intimate embrace.

"Your mirror", Haneyl Choi, 2021, chrome plated metal. Courtesy of the artist.
Indeed, the ability to play with erotism allows the artist to walk the line of queer visibility on his terms, crossing it for a moment to pull back just after. In Bulky_fusion 2, shapes made of different materials and colours are wedged into each other in an abstract otherworldly orgy. Some of the pieces are also marked with QR codes that lead to the artist’s OnlyFan account - a platform that is enjoying popularity as it offers the possibility to share (free or with a price) uncensored content.

"Bulky_fusion 2", Haneyl Choi, 2021, mixed media. Courtesy of Artforum.

In a world where queerness is not yet an open topic, but covered, hidden and often restrained, Choi Haneyl’s sculptures are the response to the artist's desperate need to take space, unapologetically.
About the Writer
Rachele Rosina specialises in Art of China, Japan and Korea.

After graduating from Beijing in Chinese Language and Culture, Rachele moved to London in 2018 to complete her MA in History of Art and Archaeology of East Asia at SOAS University of London.
Fascinated by the city’s restless art scene, she now works in the art industry.

With a focus on contemporary art and cultural studies, she is interested in the stories behind the artworks and wonders a lot about the future of art.


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