Hwa Records is a team of Korean diasporic performance-based artists and healers composed of Roger Kim, Saewon Oh, Kayla Tange, and Caroline Yoo. It was conceived after Caroline Yoo was diagnosed with hwa-byung in 2020. Hwa-byung (fire sickness) is a Korean folk syndrome attributed to the suppression of anger where pent-up emotions manifest in the body. While the diagnosis in South Korea occurs primarily in middle-aged to older women suffering under a prevalently patriarchal society, it can also be caused by the displacement stress of balancing two cultures – in this case, Korean and American.
The first rendition of The Hwa Records project aimed to create community space for diasporic Koreans to alleviate some of these pressures and to create space to process the ever-present collectively but only recently acknowledged racism directed towards Asians. The project offered free workshops to members of the Korean diaspora living in the United States between July and September 2021, where participants could see, feel, process, and release any pent-up emotion, fire, or hwa in their bodies. To create an intimate space conducive to facilitating friendship, listening, and a feeling of safety, sessions were limited to seven participants. The workshops were inspired by Korean artistic and healing traditions.
The four sessions that were provided include Hwa Break Release, which focused on voice finding and collective screaming; Meeting our Hwa with Poisonous Plants, a meditation session that provided flower essences for free to aid in emotional connection to their Hwa. The Hwa Family Stories and History Workshop, where the participants started to voice the lack of knowledge that came with migration and started to detangle the shame from not knowing. Finally Dancing Away the Patriarchy in Your Family which was for the femme, queer, non-binary community, where participants rage danced together in an attempt to purge the hwa from patriarchy.
The team, inspired by their community, is in the process of creating a performance film. Roger Kim and Andrew Sungtaek Ingersoll made a Gayageum, a traditional 12-stringed Korean instrument, into a two-stringed robo-Gayageum that was coded to be played by buttons so that anyone could play this diaspora instrument. One person originally plays the traditional Gayageum yet the robot-Gayageum is made to be played by two or more people, inspired by how community holds each other up.
In the film, they commissioned Meehee Hanbok, a traditional Korean dress shop in Los Angeles, to make a see-through red fire Hanbok. Hanboks are usually never all in red or see-through. The team wanted to create this dress to speak to how the experiences in the diaspora are not just Korean but also connected to Western.
This project was made possible by Frank-Ratchye Further Fund Grant #2021-051.