Marie Ann with her camera, Haein-Sa__Cop

© Copyright Marie Ann Yoo

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© Copyright Marie Ann Yoo

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About the Artist:

Marie Ann Kauang-Hee Han Yoo was born in 1936 in Honolulu, Hawai’i and raised on the Kunia Camp plantation. A descendent of the first wave of Korean immigrants to the US (1903-1905), her family’s reasons for immigration to the territory of Hawai’i were like other Koreans: to practice Christianity, escape Japan’s colonial rule, and ensure their children’s education. 

 

Yoo attended elementary and middle school in Wahiawa and her childhood reflected the rhythms of 1940’s plantation life: daily commutes on the back of a truck into town for school, hiking in the Ko'olau Mountains, watching horror movies from the Philippines and boxing and wrestling matches in the plantation gym, attending beach picnics at the plantation holiday house, making leis, cooking, doing chores, and most significantly, reading and dreaming of a life beyond the fields and red earth of Kunia.

 

Her father, Kee-Chan (Hank) Han had risen through the ranks of the California Packing Corporation and was one of the only Asians to hold the position of luna, or field boss, and he and his wife Salome, a nurse, and their four children Howard, Rachel, Marie Ann, and Elizabeth,  occupied the big house on the plantation. Upon the death of her father, Salome moved the family into Aina Haina, and Marie Ann attended Kaimuki High School where she was noted for her good citizenship and went on to the University of Hawai’i.

 

Like many early first wave immigrants, Marie Ann Yoo’s  relationship to Korea was affected by her parents’ and grandparents’ efforts to free themselves from Japanese colonialism. Dr. Syngman Rhee, who eventually rose to power as the first President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) had a significant involvement with her family. Marie Ann Yoo’s maternal grandfather, Chin Tae (John) Choy, was a missionary for the Methodist Episcopal church and died shortly after immigrating to Hawai’i. Her grandmother, Elizabeth Pahk, was a palace seamstress and cook, and mother of three children: Don, Salome (Marie Ann’s mother) and her twin sister Marie. Dr. Syngman Rhee, cultivated his base of supporters while working as a minister and principal of the Korean Central School.  Rhee employed Marie Ann’s grandmother Elizabeth as a house mother and cook, and also introduced her to her future husband, Ahn Hyun-Kyung, a known patriot, who was later a cabinet member of Rhee’s provisional government. In the 1920s Rhee had proposed marriage to Salome, but Elizabeth Pahk refused to grant permission for her daughter to marry Rhee given the considerable age difference.”

 

In 1955 Syngman Rhee, now president of Korea, offered Salome Han the opportunity to be the Public Relations Director of Bando Hotel, now the site of the Lotte Hotel in Myeongdong near City Hall in Seoul. The Bando was the only private hotel in Seoul at that time, a gathering place for expatriates, foreign dignitaries, and U.S. and Korean military brass.

 

Salome was joined by her daughters Marie Ann, then a student at the University of Hawaii, and Elizabeth, who had just graduated from high school. Excited to be going overseas for the first time, in Korea, Marie Ann studied the Korean alphabet hangul, took correspondence courses through the University of Maryland, and worked at the US army base where she spotted a 35mm Petri camera, and decided to save her money to purchase it.

 

Unlike the women of Korea whose physical movements were restricted due to class or custom, Marie Ann roamed her environment and took pictures everywhere she went. She documented life among the affluent expatriate social circles and the everyday life of commoners. The camera was her passport and her explorations through the markets and streets among everyday people were rare and unusual.  Her arresting images of post-war Korea are a testament to her existence as both an insider and outsider to the society she photographed. Yoo was a diasporic Korean, a visitor, a stranger, simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar to the Korean people, who would have been wholly unfamiliar with the site of a woman with a camera.

 

After Marie Ann’s sojourn to Korea, she transferred to the University of Oregon where she majored in East Asian Studies and political science.  After relocating to the Bay Area, she married Dr. Tai-June Yoo and raised three daughters, Stephanie, Christine, and Katherine. She traveled the world and lived across the continental United States, returning many times to visit Korea and lived there again, briefly from 1969-70. After decades away from the Islands, she has  returned home to retire in Hawai’i.

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© Copyright Marie Ann Yoo

©Copyright 2021 Marie Ann Yoo