Now on View: Jiha Moon

Lauren Wolfer, Associate Curator of Special Collections & Archives

A take-out Chinese container unwrapped and printed with Asian designs.
Jiha Moon, American, b. South Korea, 1973. Take Out. 3D color lithograph on paper, 2012. Loan from Jack H. Lemon. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Jiha Moon’s art blends Asian cultural influences and American pop culture, masking dark themes with humor using multimedia approaches. You can see her piece, Take Out, now on view in Landfall Press: Five Decades of Printmaking, closing at the end of this week! FWMoA recently purchased two additional works by Moon, and you can look forward to her future exhibit, Lucky Monster: Works by Jiha Moon, opening March 9th, 2024 featuring an in-person lecture with the artist on March 15th, 2024.

Jiha Moon was born in DaeGu, Korea, and received a B.F.A. from Korea University, a Master of Fine Arts from Ewha Womens University, and a second Master of Fine Arts in Painting from Iowa University. She is now based in Tallahassee, Florida.

Moon says of her work, “I am a cartographer of cultures and an icon maker in my lucid worlds. I take cues from a wide range of history of Eastern and Western art, colors and designs from popular culture, Korean temple paintings and folk art, internet emoticons and icons, fruit stickers and labels of products from all over the place. I often tease and change these lexicons so that they are hard to identify, yet stay in a familiar zone.” By using recognizable imagery that multiple cultures can relate to, Moon creates a cross-cultural language with her artwork. She inserts so many symbols that they become a camouflaged landscape, intricately woven together. The more you look, the more you see!

An abstract painting featuring Korean dragons, bananas, and other Asian symbols.
Jiha Moon, American, b. South Korea, 1973. Haetae (nocturnal). Ink, acrylic, and ceramic on paper, mounted on panel, 2022. Museum purchase with funds provided by the June E. Enoch Collection Fund. Image courtesy of Derek Eller Gallery

In Haetae (nocturnal), above, we see a prominent yellow wave proudly making its way through the middle of the work. This yellow wave is found throughout Moon’s body of work, as it has several symbolic meanings. Most notable to Americans is its similarity to Roy Lichtenstein’s yellow brushstroke works, a famed image in American Pop art. In Asian culture, someone with blonde hair and blue eyes is viewed as exotic, which may explain the color palette. The color yellow can also be derogatory towards Asian people. Similarly the banana image, frequently used by Pop artist sensation Andy Warhol, is also a derogatory term used towards Asian culture to describe Asian Americans: white on the inside, yellow on the outside. Moon’s multiple narratives often leave the final interpretation up to the viewer and the experience(s) they bring with them.

A lithograph of a Korean dragon, bananas, and cat imagery.
Jiha Moon, American, b. South Korea, 1973. Lucky Monster, Keep Calm and Carry On. Lithograph on paper, 2019. Museum purchase with funds provided by the June E. Enoch Collection Fund, 2019.241. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

We also see the Korean dragon in many pieces, including Haetae (nocturnal) and Lucky Monster, Keep Calm and Carry On (above). The Korean dragon, a legendary creature, is seen in present day commercial settings, like business logos and billboards. By inserting the dragon into her work, Moon is pushing and pulling historic Korean imagery with modern day aesthetics. Lucky Monster, Keep Calm and Carry On was created as the realities of the pandemic were setting in and our everyday lives were changing. The phrase “keep calm and carry on” was first used in the UK to prepare citizens for WWII. Moon uses the phrase to jump back and forth between the 1930s and present day government preparedness. Hello Kitty is also a major icon in Asian imagery, and the use of the viral Grumpy Cat reflects the modernizing of a staple. You will also notice a humorous element in all of her work. Despite the sometimes dark message, you can find joy in the colors, overexaggerated characters, and even Grumpy Cat riding on a dragon. Moon explains that this is the best way she can get her message across, and her artmaking works for her style: she takes her artwork seriously but likes to have fun and in her own way, calling out the absurdity of life.

Moon often plays with the push and pull of different languages in her work. There are several Korean words that sound similarly to the English language which she uses to create a playful juxtaposition. While living in Georgia, she often heard the phrase “Bless Your Heart” in both a sweet, sincere way and sarcastic, snarky manner. We see variations of this phrase in several works, like Maumyi. In Maumyi, a ceramic vessel with fortune cookies attached to both sides of the face and a synthetic hairdo reflect a portrait. With “Bless” on one side, there is a Korean character used as an eye on the opposite side. Fortune cookies as a treat is something created in America; Chinese restaurants in China do not give them out with meals, again reflecting her play on the misconceptions between cultures. Moon uses fake hair in her work, and if friends donated their hair she created a character about them. She plays with the hairstyles of different cultures to show how it used to be a distinctive feature but are now blended between cultures. Moon jokes that her paintings are the bad boyfriends, sitting there all cocky, while the sculptures are the fun uncles with whom she likes to add beads and quirky elements. Can you guess the pop culture reference in Maumyi? If I mention Star Wars, can you see it now? Moon used the iconic Princess Leia hairstyle as inspiration for the fortune cookies on the side of the face.

Jiha Moon, American, b. South Korea, 1973. Take Out. 3D color lithograph on paper, 2012. Loan from Jack H. Lemon. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

In Take Out, currently on display in Landfall Press: Five Decades of Printmaking, Moon used the idea of the American-made fortune cookie again. This time, however, she printed it as if it were a take-out box, one commonly used to hold take-out Chinese food. In creating Take Out, she also made a map that has a circular image. It can hang in any orientation, so that when it is folded, you can see a little bit of everything that was drawn.

In other works upcoming in her exhibit, like Traveler, she plays with the image of the Chinese screen. The modern day “screen” is probably our phone screens, which is a tool we use to connect but can also create distance. How many of us are more engaged with what’s on social media than being present in the moment? Moon often inserts emoticons and social media logos to reflect the emotion of today’s communication and how we can read it several different ways depending on who is receiving the text.

Jiha Moon, American, b. South Korea, 1973. Traveler. Courtesy of Mindy Solomon Gallery

Jiha Moon emphasizes wanting to be described first and foremost as an “artist”, not a painter or printmaker or sculptor. She finds all mediums interesting, and enjoys combining them and expanding her exploration as an artist. She frequently uses Hanji paper, a traditional Korean paper, with acrylic paint, a modern American invention, to further push the mix of traditional and contemporary.

We are excited to add two works by Jiha Moon into the permanent collection, Haetae (nocturnal) and Maumyi. Stop in and see Moon’s work, Take Out, before Landfall Press: Five Decades of Printmaking closes November 12th, 2023. Be sure to come back to see her solo exhibition opening March 9th only at the FWMoA!

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