Hate Alphabet

Solo Exhibition (curated by Jeff Katzin), FJORD gallery, Philadelphia, PA


Doah Lee’s 100 Days of Alphabet project began with the idea of making 100 works of art in 100 days. In fact, she ended up creating over 300. Each day, she started with three six-by-six-inch pieces of paper, covered them completely with pencil shading and drawings, and then painstakingly erased these marks to create first a letter of the Latin alphabet, second the phrase “Hate Alphabet,” and third “* Alphabet” with an intervening asterisk. When she ran out of both upper- and lower-case letters, she moved on to the bracketed pronunciation symbols that helped her learn spoken English after moving to the United States from her native South Korea. Indeed, the 100 Days of Alphabet project is a reflection on that fraught process. Its central phrase—Hate Alphabet—contains many meanings, referring all at once to Lee’s frustration in learning a new language, to the hostility that she saw brought to bear against fellow non-native speakers when their struggles with language marked them as immigrants, and to the anger she felt in witnessing this mistreatment. The asterisk sometimes concealing the word “Hate” suggests the pressure to hide resentment and preserve against antagonism—the pressure to pretend to ignore the past colonial histories and the present power dynamics of language in favor of assimilation. Lee’s strenuous erasing parallels this effort of adapting and concealing, creating and removing, but never removing everything.

Lee started her project on January 25, 2020, the first day of the lunar year. She dated her drawings by the Korean calendar,leaving them fittingly out of joint in a country that would assume “01.01.2020” to refer to a different day. At the time, COVID-19 might have appeared only on America’s distant horizons, but soon the pandemic became the total context for Lee’s work. The three hours of intensive labor required to continue the 100 Days of Alphabet project each day kept her going during stay-at-home orders. As Asian Americans began to face new racism, she was particularly determined to share her own experiences. She also wanted to combat the idea that artists are not “essential workers” and to show that what she was doing was worthwhile, even in a time where people were losing their lives.

This long explanation pertains to just the central works of art featured in Doah Lee: Hate Alphabet, but every piece is just as full of meaning and the result of just as much dedication. Unlike so many artists, if you ask Lee about the ideas behind her work, she will simply describe them to you, plainly and directly. She has no reason to fear that her art will be exhausted by explanation (it is too rich and too open) and she has no interest in hiding her personal experiences (they are too important).

By Jeff Katzin, Guest Curator, Curatorial Fellow at the Akron Art Museum
On View: Sep. 5 -Sep. 26, 2020

Opening: September 5th 2– 6pm

Virtual Artist Talk (via Zoom): 
September 12th from 4–5pm

FJORD will host a virtual artist talk with Doah Lee, moderated by Jeff Katzin, on September 12th from 4–5pm. The event is free, and the artist will discuss her work and the exhibition. Please email us at fjord.curator@gmail.com with any questions.

©Doah 2024