Stefa Govaart

Four Months, Four Million Light Years

_Exhibition text accompanying Sara Sejin Chang's work for the 2020 Berlin Biennale_


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Four Months, Four Million Light Years (2020) is a shamanic healing journey addressing the colonial narratives behind interracial and intercountry adoption, specifically the historical relations between The Netherlands and Korea. The film takes the colonial print Shaman or Devil’s Priest from the Tungus (1692) by the Dutchman Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717) as the starting point for a spiritual journey through time. The seventeenth-century print is the first Western depiction of a shaman. It marks the beginning of a long history of racialized and infantilizing descriptions of Asian people by white Europeans. The caricature image was later used by missionaries to marginalize shamanism.

Four Months, Four Million Light Years time-travels from contemporary Dutch society to the participation of 3,418 Dutch soldiers in the deadly Korean War (1950–1953) to early Dutch colonial descriptions of Asian people. The artist herself is an adoptee from Korea and grew up in The Netherlands. In The Netherlands alone around 40,000 people have been adopted from the Global South to the Global North, often through child trafficking and with falsified documents. The “four months” of the title refer to the time it took to make a Korean child available for the lucrative interracial adoption industry that flourished after the Korean War, an industry that continues to live off the same colonial imagery from 300 years ago. 

In the room, textile banners surround the video projection. Here, shamanic poems, songs and visions invoke the ancestors for support. The work is an homage to those who have been cut off from their mothers, fathers, family, ancestors, land, culture and spirits.