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Buttons, beads, and Buddhism: How Ran Hwang’s large-scale work invites New Yorkers to reflect and connect

Ran Hwang’s Breathwave
Image courtesy of Young Ha Jo.

Ran Hwang’s artistic fusion of birds and Buddhism serves as a powerful tool for self-reflection and spiritual exploration, particularly in the bustling city of New York. Through her intricate installations composed of thousands of buttons, beads, and pins, Hwang invites viewers to contemplate their own identities amidst the fast-paced urban environment. Her art becomes a conduit for introspection, prompting individuals to question their place in the world and their connection to others.

In the midst of New York’s diverse cultural landscape, Hwang’s artwork serves as a reminder that spirituality can be found even in the most chaotic spaces.

Ran Hwang, Another Freedom
Image courtesy of Young Ha Jo.
Artist Ran Hwang
Another Moment of Rising, 2023. Threads, pins on Wooden Panel (8 panels) H 325 cm × W 800 cm × D 10 cm, 2023. Cheongju Craft Biennale, Image courtesy of RH Art Studio.
Ran Hwang with her installation, Another Freedom
Another Moment of Rising, 2023. Threads, pins on Wooden Panel (8 panels) H 325 cm × W 800 cm × D 10 cm, 2023. Cheongju Craft Biennale, Image courtesy of RH Art Studio.

As individuals walk around the expansive installation, they not only witness Hwang’s artistic vision but also embark on a symbolic journey that echoes age-old practices. This engagement bridges temporal and spiritual realms, providing a unique pathway to comprehend the essence of Buddhism through contemporary art. 

Despite showcasing her work internationally, Hwang believes that her artwork resonates with viewers regardless of their nationality. She observes that the people of New York, in particular, carry deep wounds from the 9/11 attacks that have significantly influenced her artistic journey. Nonetheless, she believes that the universal subjects of transience, cyclical life, and healing appeal to individuals universally. 

Ran Hwang is a Korean-born, New York-based artist who creates large, recognizable figures that delve into the cyclical nature of life, invisibility, and the beauty of fleeting moments. Drawing from her background in the fashion industry and personal memories of the 9/11 attacks, she incorporates everyday materials into her delicate and dramatic artworks. Hwang’s practice of Zen Buddhism infuses her craftsmanship, highlighting repetition and atonement. Through her performative and conceptual approaches, she contemplates the introspective essence of human existence in society.

Ran Hwang working on her Palace series
Ran Hwang working on her Palace series. Image courtesy of Young Ha Jo.

Overall, Ran Hwang’s artwork explores themes of life, death, connectivity, and the ephemeral nature of existence. Her installations are visually stunning and thought-provoking, inviting viewers to contemplate the complexities of human relationships and the impact of their actions. Hwang’s works have garnered international acclaim and continue to engage and inspire audiences worldwide.

Hwang’s artwork can be found in prestigious institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Deji Art Museum in Nanjing, and the Dubai Opera House, among others. Hwang’s association with the AHL Foundation dates back to 2004, when she became the inaugural recipient of the AHL Foundation Grant. Since then, she has consistently participated in annual gala events and considers it a privilege to inaugurate an exhibition at the AHL Foundation.

The AHL Foundation, established in 2003 by Sook Nyu Lee Kim, is a nonprofit arts organization. Its mission is to support artists of Korean heritage working in the United States, providing them with resources, exposure, and platforms to cultivate their talents. Additionally, the foundation hosts educational and cultural events to raise awareness of contemporary Korean-American artists.

The show is on view until March 8, 2024, at the AHL Foundation at 2605 Frederick Douglass Blvd., New York, NY 10030.

To learn more about Hwang’s exhibition, please visit the foundation’s website and check out their Instagram.

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