Go to contents

40 years after her death, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is reeval‎uated

40 years after her death, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is reeval‎uated

Posted January. 12, 2022 07:54,   

Updated January. 12, 2022 07:54


The New York Times carried an obituary to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982) 40 years after her death, a Korean American writer who influenced many Asian heritage artists coming after her by her writing, one of the most representative books of which includes “ Dictée,” where she explored minority identity in an experimental and radical style. The newspaper looked into Cha’s life and artistic career in its obituary series on people whose death had been overlooked. “Overlooked No More” is The New York Times’ feature that contains posthumous obituaries honoring those who should have been credited but were not. Some of the figures introduced in the section include Yu Gwan-sun, a Korean independence activist, and Kim Hak-sun, one of the victims of the Japanese military’s forced sexual slavery who courageously stepped up and testified the Japanese military’s crime.

Born in 1951 in Busan, South Korea, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha immigrated to the United States at the age of 11. She majored in art and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley and studied film theory in France. She produced many writings, films, photographs, and performance arts. Min Jin Lee, another Korean American writer who is well known for the novel “Pachinko,” also said that Cha was the first artist who spoke about the lives of Korean Americans from a subjective point of view and that she was greatly influenced by Cha.

“Dictée,” a French word for speaking or writing, contains stories of not only the writer herself but also those of Yu Gwan-sun, Joan of Arc, and the writer’s mother, who was born in Manchuria and moved to China, South Korea, and the United States. Although written in English, Korean and French are also included without translation. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York mounted a solo exhibition of work by Cha in 1993. “Dictée” was republished twice, in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

In November 1982, two months after the first publishment of “Dictée,” Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was murdered by a security guard at a building in New York. The perpetrator committed another murder after fleeing to the state of Florida and was arrested thereafter. The murderer was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 and is currently serving time in prison.

Min Kim kimmin@donga.com