When I was assigned this piece, I had never heard of So Yoon Lym, but as soon as I looked up the artist’s The Dreamtime work, I wanted to know everything. Born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in the United States, the artist is known for describing her art as Taekwondo, taking on its 6 tenants in all she does: Courtesy, integrity, perseverance, patience, self-discipline and invincibility of spirit.
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The Dreamtime is a work in which Lym painted incredibly realistic, braided hairstyles, inspired by aboriginal stories and origins. In fact, each braided pattern is a map of valleys, mountains, forests, oceans, rivers and streams. Her goal for the 20 painting series is for people to change the way they view the world. She wants her work to spark conversation and connect generations of people who are part of the braiding culture, either as admirers, doers, or wearers.
As a Black woman from South Africa, I appreciate the 7 years So Yoon Lym spent in Uganda. That was where she first saw braids. It’s also extremely fascinating that the braids in her piece are used as a way to connect past generations to generations now. Several people believe these intricate braid styles were not just braids, but symbols of maps for slaves as a way to get out of confinement. Both genius and triggering at the same time, I believe So Yoon Lym is paying tribute to this way of thinking, which is honorable.
It’s artist’s like Lym who are able to reach people and show them how beautiful and deep the history of braiding is. Out of the 20 styles, each one is different either in width of braid, style of braid, and of course, pattern of braid. As someone who is searching for Black or African art, either by a Black artist or an artist accurately depicting the culture, I can easily see these pieces going up in my house. They’re tasteful, educational, and beautifully celebrate a long history and ritual in Black and African culture.
After reading some of the comments on Instagram, it seems people are split on her work—some believe it is cultural appropriation. As always, there are negative views, but I think what she has done is quite amazing. She’s shown a variety of styles and also it appears she has the research to back it.
Photo via So Yoon Lym/Etsy