At ICAV, we strive to elevate adoptee artists as their works can often portray what words struggle to convey. Consistent with this, at the recent 9 September K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night, Ra Chapman and myself wanted the evening to be a celebration of Australian intercountry adoptee artists. We were able to present some of their work in a printout as a ZINE which you can view here:
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Other Adoptee Artists
We’ve had some other incredible intercountry adoptee artists present their works at ICAV over the years. Here is a compilation of what has been shared. Click on the image and it will take you to their blog with artworks.
Meg is a Korean intercountry adoptee, raised in Australia and a comic artist. She makes largely autobiographical and non-fiction work that has appeared in The Nib, The Lily, Liminal Magazine, The Comics Journal and anthologies including Comic Sans,Steady Diet, Threads That Connect Us and the Eisner award-winning Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment and Survival. She has exhibited comic, animation and film work internationally, taught comic making to university students, developed and delivered comics programs to high school-aged students from migrant and refugee backgrounds with STARTTS, and art programs to elementary-aged students in Korea. Meg is currently working on a long-form work based on her experiences as the Asian child of white parents in Australia, a recent period of living in Korea, and a failed search for her Korean mother.
She created the artwork for our K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night promotional material and ZINE:
Meg also presented as one of our adoptee artists and you can watch the video of her presentation here:
Ebony is an Haitian born intercountry adoptee raised into Australia. She is a talented artist whose body of work speaks to the complex issues we live as intercountry adoptees and exploring our identity.
As an Australian contemporary artist with an interest in interrogating concepts of individuality, adoption, sexuality, queerness and black identity. Ebony draws on her life experience to inform the creation of her drawings and expressive sculptural forms, employing a diverse assortment of materials to compose her work. Performance is also an important element of her creative practice. In 2000, Ebony created the drag personality Koko Mass. Koko loves to perform songs with soul and is a bit of a badass who always speaks up and is honest about issues they face in society. Koko challenges perceptions head on whilst also having fun with their audience. Ebony’s practice is bold and politically engaged, responding to issues that affect her communities with a strong visual language she continues to explore. Ebony completed her Masters of Contemporary Art at Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne in 2020.
Ebony contributed this piece of artwork for our ZINE which was a printed out magazine celebrating Australia’s intercountry and transracial adoptee artists, for people to take home.
She is also participating with a group of Australian First Nations adoptees on the 7 Oct at Melbourne University in an exhibition titled – Adopted.
Ebony’s artist statement about this video:
Divine Make-up, 2019
Divine make-up is an example of my drawings coming to life, putting myself within the frame, showing how I draw and then pairing that with my spoken word performance. Drawing is an important part of my practice; I respect the simple form of paper and textas.
I like the immediacy of drawing; I feel my drawings can be spontaneous and I like to free draw. When I draw, I don’t plan the outcome, I start and see where it takes me, I let the marks guide my direction. My work, as Ebony, is personal and honest. My drawings are a mix of feelings, experiences and specific moments in my life. This videos shows the ideas I have explored recently, coming together to fill the space with my black self.
On Friday 9 September, I co-hosted with Ra Chapman (Korean intercountry adoptee and playwright) an adoptee artist event in Melbourne, Victoria at the Malthouse Theatre. This event followed the performance of Ra’s incredible comedy play, K-Box which is the story of Lucy (a Korean intercountry adoptee) who is a 30+ year old Korean adoptee who brings some humour and hard truths to the dinner table.
Following the play, we had some of our talented intercountry adoptee artists present a small 10 minute segment on their artwork.
The next few blogs will bring to you a couple of these adoptee artists in their presentations, followed by some of the artwork we captured for the ZINE, a small magazine showcasing their artwork as a take home memento from our evening.
For me, the highlight of the evening was a reading by a Korean adoptee who is an academic, a writer, and co-host of podcast Adopted Feels, Ryan Gustafsson. Ryan is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. Their most recent publication is ‘Whole Bodies,’ which appears in Liminal’s anthology Against Disappearance: Essays on Memory (Pantera Press, 2022). Ryan is also co-facilitator of the Korean Adoptee Adoption Research Network (KAARN).
Ryan’s presentation was powerful, eloquent, and poignant and presented with such raw honesty, it resonated within my soul as I could relate to so much of what they shared about how we can feel about our first mother.
Have a listen to Ryan’s reading from an excerpt of their writing titled – We met each other with different names.
On 3 April 2022, a group of 19 Australian intercountry adoptees participated in an ICAV consultation for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who have developed a Concept Paper for a National Anti-Racism Framework. We believe intercountry/transracial adoptees are under represented in race discussions in almost every adoptive country and wanted to make sure we had a say. Gabby’s input below is included in our full papers here which we submitted to the AHRC.
I was born in 1966 in Auckland New Zealand. I am 100% Chinese and at the time of writing, I am 56 years old. I started coming out of the adoption fog at 48 years of age, after meeting my birth mother in 2004. It seems old but to clarify, at 48, I finally connected with other Asian adoptees and found validation, support and the language to express my feelings around my life experience.
I have a huge respect for parents. I am a step parent but have not done the heavy lifting that parents do. It’s hard being a parent. Throw adoption or fostering into the mix and that becomes very hard. Throw transracial adoption into that mix and the challenges become even more so. These are my thoughts around racism. All of our experiences are different.
I am very happy. I see the value of good relationships with friends, peers and family, and acknowledge that all of us have experienced trauma at some point in our lives. However, I have struggled with racism my entire life with my difference pointed out almost daily by classmates, co-workers and friends. Not too regularly, I have also been attacked and harassed on the street and was bullied badly throughout my school years. Jokes and micro-aggressions seem harmless and it took me decades to understand why I was constantly angry: an innocent question about my name/my origins/my nationality seems innocuous, but day after day, often from complete strangers makes a person exhausted, wary and sad/angry. I often withdraw.
I have this to say – I could not tell you this at age 12, 18, 25, 30 or even 40. It took decades to begin to process, understand and articulate what I am feeling.
Dear adoptive parents
Here is what I would like you to know about my life experience as a transracial adoptee:
Please understand my life experience is, was and will always be different to that of my white peers, siblings and parents. Like it or not, quite often we transracial adoptees are treated very differently to our white siblings and peers. I noted a big change in people’s behaviour towards me when they saw one of my parents come into view. Racists are sneaky – they are not going to say stuff with you around. And it comes in many subtle forms: how many brown kids are watched like a hawk as soon as they enter a store? How many brown girls are told they talk too much or are too loud/naughty when their white classmates are termed ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘confident’ for the same behaviour?
I was raised colourblind. It was the 60s, 70s and 80s. We knew no better. I was 55 years old when the penny finally dropped about my own family’s response to my experience with racism. An older sister said, “But we just assumed you were one of us,” (therefore, it was impossible for you to experience racism). Another piece of the puzzle solved. However, my 7 year old me would not thank my family for the dismissal, harsh words or outright denial that anything had taken place. Things are different now. We have resources and so much information available.
If you are triggered by the terms: white privilege, white fragility and wilful ignorance then think long and hard before adopting a child of different race to you. We are looking to you to teach us, to have our backs and stand up for us. And this includes your circle of friends, your own family and peers. I was raised in the age where children were seen and not heard. I accepted outright racist comments/acts from neighbours, friends, extended family, and later, colleagues because I felt that it was my lot or I was undeserving of better. But think about what that does to someone over a lifetime! Is it any wonder that we adoptees are 4 times more likely to have substance abuse or suicide? Let’s try to change that.
Believe us. I was 5 or 6 years old when I reported my first racist incident to my parents (and this was because I was scared. I didn’t report the ‘ching chong’ chants, the pulling back of eyes and harsher treatment by certain nuns because I was brown and clearly born of sin – those were a daily occurrence). Two much larger and older boys cornered me and pulled down my pants to see if ‘my bum was the same as the other girls’. Horrific and it still haunts me to this day. In response to sharing what happened, I was punished and told not to lie. So I stopped. It was clearly not safe for me to speak up and I didn’t want to be punished for it (to be fair I think it was the mention of private parts that had them more outraged). I left NZ for good in 1988. I put distance between myself and my family because of the above and some bonds were sadly broken for a while. Do you want this for your own family? If your children do not trust you to have their back they may be reticent to report more serious stuff like abuse, bullying and even date rape/domestic violence.
Just because we don’t tell you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I finally found the courage to speak up in the last two years. I cut friends, extended family members and suppliers for my own mental health and sanity but also I finally understood that I didn’t have to engage with such people.
Words hurt. And the hurt lasts a lifetime. So those jokes you make about other races — their food, shopping habits, hoarding, driving skills … all those lazy stereotypes that the Australian media like to peddle – well, your kids are listening. When we see racist incidents reported be dismissed or downplayed by the media (especially if it is a footy star/ celebrity accused), how do you think that makes us feel? We don’t need to hear: ‘They weren’t racist to me – are you sure it happened?’ ‘What did you do to make them act in this way?’ ‘Rise above it!’ ‘Ignore it!” ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ ‘I’m sure Xxxx didn’t mean to be offensive…’ This ain’t it. Do better.
Quite often we are rejected by our own race – we are seen as ‘too white’, too culturally ignorant, and our names are white. This can be very confronting. We grow up, study, work and socialise generally in white spaces. We adapt to our environments to fit in but can be treated very harshly by our own race because of this. A heritage camp and trip once a year can’t help with this and if we are living in a white country – it is understandable that we just want to fit in/fade into the background like everyone else. But we can’t. Don’t shame us for trying to survive in our own environments.
Racism is hard to process when the perpetrator looks like a member of your own family. An Asian child who grows up with their own cultural background watches how their parents react and behave when they are faced with racist incidents. They see how their parents behave and speak to the offender. Nothing may be said but there is a shared experience within the family and younger members can learn from their elders – and even grow up to challenge passive responses.
Check out Gabby’s amazing Art Mentoring that she does as a volunteer with younger Chinese adoptees.
by Roxas-Chua, adopted from the Philippines to the USA; author, artist.
I thought I’d share this image that sits on my desktop table in my studio. I created it one of those nights when I wasn’t able to tap into shift and movement in my adoption struggle. I find that a balance of story-sharing, self-parenting work, contemplative writing and drawing has helped me in navigating and translating the world around me. In this drawing, I was accompanied by the moon, which in way gave me comfort the way nature does. I hope you enjoy it. It’s a snapshot of tenderness that we seek from ourselves and from others. If the moon can be my birthmother now, I’m alright with that. I’ll take any path that lights up the night.
I came to poetry late, but it surfaced in my life at a time when I needed it most. Poetry has always been a means for me to collect, investigate, and reflect my inner world, which has been undoubtedly imprinted with the indelible mark of adoption. The following poems seek not answers but to raise questions inside anyone who may be listening:
by Alexis Bartlett, adopted from South Korea to Australia; their adoptee art project can be found at Art by Alexis Bartlett.
In continuing on with my adoptee portraits and drawing lots of eyes lately, it got me thinking about my own story and history, eyes playing a strange role.
I always hated my eyes as I was growing up. Part of the difficulty growing up as an adoptee is that we just want to be like those around us. It was always disappointing to me when I’d look in the mirror and see these brown, Korean eyes staring back at me because they were nothing like those around me, or those who were meant to be my family. I still go through periods where I really want to get the infamous Korean eye surgery done (to give myself a double eyelid, and hence the illusion of larger, less Asian eyes) because I think there will always be a part of me that I can’t fully embrace for who I am. But I have a little guy looking to me now as a mum; a little guy who I want to have grow up loving himself just the way he is. And I feel it would only be contradictory for me to alter myself while telling him he should love himself for the way he is.
It’s so hard, but self love is so important. And that’s so hard to have when you’re adopted because not only do you know (from a VERY young age) that there was some reason as to why you weren’t wanted, but we grow up around people who look nothing like us. It might seem trivial, but trust me, it isn’t. Representation is important, especially coming from those who are meant to be closest to you. Anyway, YoungHee here, has amazing eyes.
To see more of Alexis’s adoptee portraits, check them out, click on each image.
For those who don’t access Facebook, here are some of what Alexis has shared for these portraits as a reflection of her own journey:
“It’s nice to paint people who are “like me”. I’m only just coming to terms with… myself, in many ways. I’ve been trying to get my head around my adoption trauma all my life; something that’s manifested itself in various ways over the years. I was a terrified, lonely kid (although, to be fair, I love solitude) who wanted to be accepted but couldn’t be because I could never accept myself and just be myself.”
“A lot of people don’t want to hear the experiences of adoptees; they’re too confronting, too challenging to the happy ideals people go into adoption with. Many of us are angry with misunderstanding, having been silenced by the happy side of adoption that people want to believe in.”
“I was a very lonely kid. I’ve always found it difficult, if not impossible, to make genuine friendships with people, and I always knew I was different to my adoptive family; many of whom excluded me from things, anyway. Art was all I had, much of the time.”
“For me, belonging has always been a struggle. I have my own little family now where I finally have a true sense of belonging, but other than that, it’s pretty sparse. I’ve been made very aware recently that I’ll never truly belong or fit in with my biological family, and I’ve never truly fitted in with my adoptive family either. Finding the Korean adoptee community has been immensely important to me though and I feel super honoured that I can share my fellow adoptees’ experiences and stories. Thanks, guys.”
This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.
by Kyleigh Elisa, adopted from Colombia to the USA.
I am angry for sure. I feel like my anger ebbs and flows. Like, some days I’m just ready to burst and others, it’s a slow burn deep down.
When I was first given permission to be angry about my adoption about a decade ago by a therapist, it was like a volcano that erupted inside of me and I couldn’t stop it for months. Back then it was more about always feeling unacceptable. Feeling like I hated how I was different in a sea of white people. That no-one close ever really acknowledged the pain inside me due to adoption. That I was made to feel like I was en exotic commodity, while also being told, “No, you’re just like us. You’re just our Kyleigh”. I feel like that was some kind of unintentional gaslighting trying to make me feel accepted, but it had the opposite effect.
Since then I let my anger out more regularly and I don’t drink to dull the pain like I used to. I am definitely still angry though and I hate being adopted. I hate colonialism. I hate white supremacy. I hate the patriarchy. I am afraid of religious organizations that allow people to justify it all. I believe all these things contribute to why we are all adopted.
I just start thinking about it all and the anger billows. It’s a thought path I have to force myself to interrupt because it does not help me. While I think it’s good to be aware that stuff exists, I also cannot allow it to deteriorate my mental health. So I research and try to give back to our community and participate in adoptee organizations – this reminds me that I’m not alone.
Remembering I’m not alone helps a lot. Taking gradual steps to reclaim pieces of my culture that were taken from me helps too. It’s scary while I try to get back what was lost, and that’s upsetting at times, but in the end I reap the rewards accepting each little piece back to me, as it’s mine to rightfully hold.
This year I will turn fifty. During seven years and four months of those fifty years, I have looked at adoption from another perspective than I did during my first forty-two years and here is something that I have spent the first hours of 2022 thinking.
When criticizing adoption, you often get to hear people contradicting you referring to other adoptees who do not share your critical view. “I have a friend who is adopted and she is just perfectly happy and thankful”. Well, so?
Another thing that often strikes me is that when it comes to adoption, being older and more experienced does not render you more respect. I don’t know how many times I have seen adult adoptees being pushed back by adoptive parents claiming that their ten-year-old adopted child has never experienced racism or felt rootless, etc..
For years, I was pro-adoption and I even participated in an adoption agency’s information (propaganda) meetings for prospective adoptive parents and social workers. I was never ever questioned and never asked to show statistics of other scientific sources to back up my claims. I was adopted then and I am just as adopted now. However, my words then were never subject for doubt whereas what I say today is always subject of scrutiny and quite often dismissed as sentimental BS. As opposed to what was truly sentimental BS…
Back then, I had not read any reports or seen any documentaries about adoption. I had hardly talked to other adoptees other than my sibling and the other adoptees on the panels at the adoption agency’s meetings. Sure, today one could accuse me for being a bit categorical, but why wasn’t I accused of that previously? And why are the words from my soon to be fifty-year-old self less trustworthy than those from my thirty-year-old self, or my fifteen-year-old self for that matter…
This is not only about trauma. For me, it is about political/ideological statements, it is about insights about privilege and colonial/patriarchal structures, of which I know far more today than I did ten years ago, let alone as a child.
I think it has to do with the way adoption is framed and cast. We, the adoptees are eternally children and as such equals to each other but not equals with adoptive parents, not even when you are decades older than the adoptive parent you are debating. Therefore, in the context of the adoption debate, I hate being labelled “adoptive child” and I don’t like having to refer to people who adopt as adoptive parents. In this context, I would prefer it if we were adoptees and adopters, but since I know what battles to pick, I do respect group rules in adoption forums. However, I do believe that language matters. Words paint pictures and these pictures affect the way a conversation is held.