Four Months, Four Million Light Years (2020) by Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide) presents a shamanic healing journey through space and time. This immersive film installation addresses the colonial narratives behind transnational and transracial adoption, through the historical relations between The Netherlands and Korea.
The colonial print Een Schaman ofte Duyvel-Priester [Shaman or Devil’s Priest from the Tungus, 1692] by Dutchman Nicolaes Witsen acts as a pivotal entry point for a spiritual journey through time. This print is the first Western depiction of a shaman. It marks the beginning of a long history of racialised and infantilising descriptions of Asian people by white Europeans and the violent eradiation of shamanistic cultures by missionaries.
The exhibition time-travels from contemporary Dutch society and the participation of 3,418 Dutch soldiers in the deadly Korean War (1950–1953) to early Dutch colonial descriptions of Asian people. In the Netherlands alone around 40,000 people have been adopted from the Global South, often through child trafficking and with falsified documents.
The four months of the title refer to a Korean decree, which required children to stay a minimum of four months in a Korean orphanage in order to become adoptable by law for the lucrative transnational and transracial industry. This industry started to flourish after the Korean War and still perpetuates the same colonial imagery from 300 years ago.
Textiles, paper text banners, and drawings surround this video projection. 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.
After several international presentations, including at the 11th Berlin Biennial, the Busan Biennial, at ARGOS, Brussels and at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Four Months, Four Million Light Years can now finally be seen in the Netherlands.
In February 2021, the Dutch government decided to end transnational adoptions in response to the systematic abuse, child trafficking and fraud involved. The government apologized for this to people with adoption histories. However, under pressure from the powerful adoption lobby, Justice Minister Franc Weerwind announced in November 2022 that foreign adoptions would be restarted. Child and human rights organizations reacted with outrage. In December 2022, it was announced that South Korea will investigate the files of dozens of adoptees from the 1960s to 1990s, including some Dutch cases. For decades, signals were ignored that children were taken away without parental consent and that children were adopted with falsified identities in Europe and the United States to meet the high demand for children in the Global North.
Click here for Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide): Healing Colonial Adoption Narratives, an interview with Sara by Karima Boudou.
In the Centraal Museum in Utrecht Chang’s film Brussels, 2016 (2017) will be on view from February 11th to June 4th.
Sara Sejin Chang’s recent solo exhibitions include Four Months, Four Million Light Years at Moderna Museet Stockholm (currently running), ARGOS centre for audiovisual arts, Brussels, (2021) and The Mother Mountain Institute (CASCO Art Institute, Utrecht, 2021). She has participated in the Busan Biennale, Busan (2022), 11th Berlin Biennale (2020), the 5th Dhaka Art Summit (2020), Sharjah Biennal 13, Beirut; and Contour Biennale, Mechelen (2019).
MTS Audiovisueel, Amsterdam
This is exhibition is supported by: