I’m interviewing animator and illustrator, Haein Kim over the phone. As she walks around trying to find a space where she can comfortably talk to me, I ask how to pronounce her name. “It’s like Jane but with an H” she tells me as she settles in to chat.
Half an hour before our conversation I watched Peepin’, the short animation Haein co-directed alongside her partner Paul Rhodes in 2017. The film is a colourful and hilariously honest depiction of schoolyard politics.
Kim tells me that it’s the kind of authenticity that she relies on in all of her art. “If it comes from a place of honesty then people can kind of really resonate with what you’re trying to say.”
Kim is a master of finding that common ground. This week, her work will feature in a charity art exhibition entitled 'We're The Women', to raise money for the Women and Girls Emergency Centre in Sydney’s Redfern.
Showcasing the work of 16 illustrators and artists, including Kim, the auction will raise funds to help the Centre provide crisis accommodation for women and children affected by domestic violence and homelessness.
“I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve never been involved in domestic violence but I’ve heard so many of my girlfriends’ stories of growing up in a really harsh environment,” she says. The event is really just about “strong women supporting other strong women”.
Despite the serious cause behind the auction, Haein wanted to “be a bit more playful…and have some fun” with the artwork she is donating. All of the women in her drawing are of different nationalities. And ultimately, like all of her art, the work allows the audience to find that common ground by representing “the union of women.
It’s not new material for Haein who “grew up drawing princesses and women figures.” She says she gravitates towards drawing women and girls doing everyday things. It’s the kind of art that is authentic to her experience and that she feels confident creating. She relies on the idea that if the art makes sense for her, it makes sense for other people too.
Growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Haein didn’t really notice how different she was. “Growing up I was hanging around with a lot of other Koreans, a lot of Filipinos. It was so multicultural.”
Slowly she started to realise that there is a lack of representation and that her increased awareness had a lot to do with conversations being had around her. “It’s kind of in the zeitgeist now,” she says.
“Watching movies and stuff how come you don’t see people of colour?” she asks. “Why can’t that be a story that’s told? Why do we all have to resonate with a white story?”
Peepin’ was co-directed with Kim’s partner. “He’s half Asian, half white. And I think his experience is kind of reflected in that.”Feelings of being stuck between cultures, or forever in limbo are familiar to people of colour living in Australia, she explains. “When people look at you, they don’t see you as Australian.” But that feeling is magnified for him because he’s biracial. “No one really knows what box to put him in.”
Kim points out that the struggle to be seen doesn't only exist on racial lines. She’s experienced it play out based on gender too. She speaks about her experience as a woman studying animation. “When I did my uni degree it was majority women but then you go to the workforce and it’s all like men,” she says.
“That’s why we need to be in there” to show that we’re not the only ones asking, 'where is the representation?'”
An event celebrating the exhibition, entitled ‘We’re the Women’, will be held on Thursday 3 October, at Woodburn Creatives in Redfern.
For more information on Women’s and Girls’ Emergency centre visit www.wagec.org.au
If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, phone 1800 RESPECT.
Zoe Victoria is a Macquarie University journalism student and an SBS Media Mentorship mentee. You can follow Zoe on Twitter @Zoe_V.