WASHINGTON - Where is home?
Home can be just the building where you sleep at night, or it can be the place where you feel loved and secure. Artist Do Ho Suh tries to express the feelings of home in his new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The highlight of this exhibit, called "Almost Home," is three connected structures, called hubs, that visitors can walk through. They are hand-sewn, brightly colored fabric re-creations of homes Suh has lived in. The hub representing his childhood home in Seoul, South Korea, is blue. The hub representing a New York apartment is pink, and one for Berlin, Germany, is green. Suh doesn't explain the color choices, but in other installations, he has said that blue symbolized the sadness he felt when living in Seoul.
The hubs are created using traditional Korean sewing techniques along with computer modeling. Suh calls them "suitcase homes" because they are lightweight and designed to be moved from museum to museum.
"[With this] I could carry my home with me wherever I go, like a snail that carries a shell - its house - wherever it goes," Suh said in a talk on the exhibition's opening night.
The details in the homes are striking. Flowerlike patterns wrap around the radiator of the hallway in his New York apartment. Doorknobs and locks are re-created to include cosmetic flaws.
Surrounding the central hubs are sketches that inspired his works and three-dimensional objects from his homes, such as a fabric fire extinguisher whose stitching reproduces the fine print on the label word for word.
One reason the Smithsonian wanted to showcase Suh's art is that people are talking about what home means for immigrants.
"As we all move around from one country to another, from one city to another and from one space to another, we are always crossing boundaries of all sorts," Suh said in his public remarks. "And with this constant passing through spaces, I wonder how much of one's own space one carries along with oneself."
Suh uses art to express how immigration and moving homes has affected him. The inspiration for his series of homes came from when he moved to New York after college, and the sounds of the city made it difficult for him to sleep. Wanting to remember the last home in which he had a good night's sleep, he thought back to his childhood home in Seoul.
"I'm interested in the space through which I feel good, protected, comfortable and liberated," Suh said. "And I'm interested in the space which is imposed on me and therefore oppresses, confines and alienates me."
You may have lived in only one home so far, but Suh's exhibit may spark kids and adults to consider the small textures or imperfections in their house and to think about how they live with them. Sometimes your memories of these details can be a home worth visiting.