Disability becomes not the end but a beginning

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Disability becomes not the end but a beginning


Left: The musical “Bisang 2” where Kim Hyung-hee, head of the Korean Disabled Expression Cooperation, appears. Right: Kim Hyung-hee has an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at the Seoul Arts Center Art Hall, southern Seoul, on Dec. 25. [KOREAN DISABLED EXPRESSION COOPERATION, OH JONG-TAEK]

Kim Hyung-hee, the head of the Korean Disabled Expression Cooperation (KDC), says that art helped her get through the darkest point in her life after she was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. Just when Kim was certain that all was lost, art helped her uncover a new dream, find love and develop the confidence to continue living.

“Through art, I was able to reconcile with my inner self. Afterwards I was able to communicate with the world and eventually put myself back out there,” said Kim in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at the Seoul Arts Center Art Hall in southern Seoul on Dec. 25. Kim created the Korean Disabled Expression Cooperation in 2007. She has organized several different artistic programs for disabled people, such as a painting education program for women with disabilities.

Kim was in the midst of her last rehearsal for the musical “Bisang 2,” which she directed and produced, during the interview. The musical is based on the real-life experiences of three disabled artists. It hit the stage on Dec. 25 and 26, and more than 900 people attended the shows.

Kim always had a gift for dancing when she was young and dreamed of being a professional dancer. After graduating from Kaywon High School of the Arts, she earned admission to Sungkyunkwan University, where she majored in the performing arts.

“I was so happy back then. It was a time when I could just fully immerse myself in dance,” said Kim. Apart from her dancing education, she spent her college life either working part-time jobs or modeling.

Her life took a drastic turn in 1992, when she was a senior in college. Kim was in a car that was driven by her friend, who was a new driver, when her life-altering accident occurred.

Her friend mistakenly stepped on the accelerator rather than the brake, and the car crashed into a median strip. Two other friends who were in the car walked out of the accident with no severe injuries, but Kim had her neck crushed and received a diagnosis of general paralysis.

“At first, I thought a lot about ending my life, but [right after the accident] I couldn’t even drink water without someone’s help, let alone end my own life,” said Kim.

Her parents’ devotion and love helped her get through this trying time. Kim began her rehabilitation program for her parents, who were there by her side.

Thanks to her rehabilitation and wrist-stabilizing orthosis, she was able to eat meals by herself and strengthen her arm muscles to the point where she could move from her bed to the wheelchair without any help. But it was art that gave her a second chance at life.

After the accident, her paintings portrayed professional dancers. Kim explained, “[While I was painting, it felt like] I was in charge of choreographing the movements of the dancers on the canvas. I could feel myself moving along with them as I painted.” The deeper she immersed herself in drawing, the more she recovered from her depression.

Kim was able to meet the love of her life thanks to her paintings. In 1998, Kim displayed some of her works at an art exhibition that featured work from painters with disabilities. She was later awarded a prize for her work. The painting that earned her that award (a scenery sketch of Jeju Island) was the painting her husband, a then-college student volunteer, helped her paint.

Affection soon sprouted between the two. Even when he was far away because of his mandatory military service, Kim’s husband didn’t forget to call her at least twice a day and write her over a hundred handwritten love letters. In the eyes of her husband, Kim’s paralysis was not an obstacle that they had to overcome. After five years of dating, the two tied the knot in 2003 and had a daughter in 2006.

After her pregnancy and childbirth, unexpected depression overwhelmed Kim. She doubted whether she could raise her daughter while living with general paralysis.

One again, it was art that helped her. The art studies that she did in order to qualify as a clinical art therapist helped her with her depression.

“Upon studying, I realized that art was helping my psychological, mental and physical education. That’s when I started to really want to help heal the physical and psychological wounds of others through art,” said Kim. After qualifying as a clinical art therapist and color specialist, Kim enrolled in the master’s program at Cha University. She graduated after completing her master’s thesis, which was about the effects of clinical art therapy in reducing depression in patients suffering from spinal cord injuries.

Kim founded Korean Disabled Expression Cooperation in 2007. The first program that she organized under the foundation was educating female painters with disabilities. Participants in program were taught by Kim for 10 months. The program ended with their work being displayed in a gallery in Jongno District, central Seoul.

“After experiencing the confidence I earned through displaying my art work in 2002, I wanted others to feel the same way, [which is why I came up with this program],” said Kim.

As of 2015, Kim’s program helped educate 15 painters. Apart from the art exhibits, Kim organizes fashion shows for aspiring wedding dress designers with disabilities, healing camps and an art academy that even people without disabilities could participate in. It was in 2014 that Kim came up with the idea of producing a play. The money that she needed to fund the play came from sponsorships of the foundation and government subsidies.

“Our annual budget [for the foundation] is 10 billion won [$8.9 million]. Only 30 percent of the 10 billion won comes from governmental subsides. The rest is sponsorships from public and private entities,” said Kim. “It’s harder for individual artists and non-profit organizations to receive financial support. This is why [the government] should work to convert social enterprises to public ones so they could receive more financial aid. ”

“Bisang 2” is a musical that was first introduced to the CKI Stage last November. About 20 actors, some of whom have disabilities and some of whom don’t, auditioned to act in the musical. The musical tells the true story of Kim, Song Byong-gil, a blind poet, and Lee Gang-il, a violinist who suffered from polio. All three make appearances on the stage.

Kim said that her appearance made her feel like she was “an object of art.”

Kim added that, “I wanted the musical to be evaluated based on the artistic creativity that comes from disabled people. I wish that art created by the disabled will help them communicate with society and live happily because of it.”

BY LEE JI-YOUNG [jeong.juwon@joongang.co.kr]
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