Debbie Han believes beauty is in the eye of the beholder
In today's society, we live in a world filled with constant self-doubt and low self-esteem. It is evident that different cultures maintain different standards of beauty, and as a result women feel a pressure to meet them. Therefore, the question remains: What is true beauty? Korean-American artist Debbie Han makes a real testament to the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In her exhibit, "The Eye of Perception," she confronts the very definition of beauty and cultural identity, challenging the perspective on what makes one beautiful.
Han initially studied at SMC and then proceeded to obtain her B.A. in art from UCLA and her MFA from Pratt Institute in New York. "The Eye of Perception" has been displayed in several galleries throughout the world since it's premiere last fall, and is now on display at the Santa Monica Performing Arts Center in the Pete & Susan Barrett Gallery until March 19.
The piece "The Battle of Conception," is composed of 32 Venus busts installed on a table, Han abandoned the idea of using the traditional Venus face, and replaced each bust with mutated faces containing different facial features of various races and ethnicities. It took her 7 years to complete, and is one of her favorite works to date.
"This is the project that took me to Korea, and when I saw the material I thought it was one of the most beautiful materials, with it's mix of blue, green, and gray, called celadon," Han enthused.
Han felt that through this piece she wanted to express the "social conditioning that we get throughout all our life, and how that really shapes our sense of reality."
She uses the female form as a metaphorical language to create an invitation for people to see what is happening in our time, and to question what makes our time different from the previous generation as it pertains to beauty.
"Female beauty is not just an individual issue, it's more a social issue nowadays…social hierarchy definitely plays a part," Han said. She hopes that by putting down our social notions, societies can get down to the fundamental essence of things.
John Beneke, an SMC student currently enrolled in Art Design II, clearly had a respect for the message conveyed throughout the work. Despite the fact that the material did not relate to him as a man, he respects what Han is trying to express. "It was really interesting to see the mixing of different facial features of different races, like those small Asian eyes, and a big hooked Jewish nose on another and so forth."
One of the main components of Han's artwork is her use of the universal beauty icon Venus. Susanne Oconnell, a social worker, shared her admiration for Han's attempt at mirroring all types of beauty.
"There are different types of beauty in her work, and not just the classic kind," Oconnell said. She believes American culture has more problems with beauty more than other culture, especially with the struggle that women face with not fitting in to a certain standard.
In the photo series "Graces", Han uses photographs of bodies of Asian women, and combines them with heads of classical Goddess sculptures.. Oconnell related that she really appreciated the fact that one of the women in the photo "Seated Three Graces" clearly had a large stomach.
"She's still very beautiful, and you don't only have to look toned in order to be considered beautiful," Oconnell explained.
Allison Jeon, a young Korean high school student stated that in Korean culture there is a notion that beauty consists of pale skin and a high nose, and a lot of women are pressured into plastic surgery in order to achieve that standard.
"I think these pictures and sculptures are portraying how it's okay to be different, to be normal and not high-maintenance," Jeon said.
Jeon hopes that "The Eye of Perception," will bring people together and "help change the perception that it's not just about beauty, but it's about who you are as a person and you don't need to change that."