What Does 200,000 Really Look Like?

Last summer, a group of Korean adoptees living in Seoul got together and created an installation to answer this question, at the request of Rep. Choi Young-hee.  It was a visually stunning piece called A Collection of One, and the written reflections were equally powerful.

phot by Jeanne Modderman

I am not a designer, but as a geography student, I paid attention to the aesthetics and design of maps and visual representation.  What I love about this installation is that it attempted to make concrete the very abstract concept of over 200,000 children being sent overseas.  200,000 is not millions…but it is larger than most of us realize, and in viewing the images from the installation process, it became clear to me that 200,000 still too big for me to wrap my mind around.

Just like agencies “losing” files, mixing up names and identities, in the process of installing this piece it became clear that 200,000 of anything is a lot to keep track of.  By which I mean it’s virtually impossible.  They were unable to complete the project, finishing only 60,000 tags in the time they had.  Which just goes to show that 200,000 is no small number.

photo by Jeanne Modderman

200,000 individual stories.

200,000 names and faces.

200,000 families who are missing a member of their clan.

I believe that projects like this are important, because they help give context and scale to what often gets narrowed down to be a very individual experience.  That perspective is important and valuable, yes…but I believe the broader scale is important, too.  It helps create an awareness of patterns and flow, helps us individual adoptees see that we are not alone.  And it empowers us to come together and create a community out of such disparate and isolating experiences.

Even though I was not in Seoul for this project, I feel deeply connected to the artists and activists who put this together.  It helped me see that our collective story is an important one that needs to be told, and that it can help illuminate all kinds of relationships, networks, and understandings about migration, diaspora, and kinship.  It makes me want to explore this element of design and representation of adoption, and think about what other tools I can use as a geographer to represent the exchange of children among countries…

What would a map of international adoption look like? What would be included on the legend?  With the upcoming conference in 2012 called Mapping Adoption, I think there’s going to be a lot of new fascinating art and scholarship that explores the intersections of place, space, and adoption, and it has me all kinds of excited!

For more, visit TRACK’s website.


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