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Q & A with Award-Winning Senior Jeainny Kim

Published By Cameron Oglesby / published on: May 16, 2018

A student-to-student interview with Jeainny Kim, recipient of the Sudler Prize and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation Award at this year's Arts Awards.

After picking up both the Sudler Prize and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation Award this year, visual artist Jeainny Kim reflects on her art and her Duke career

From a solo exhibition at downtown Durham’s Power Plant Gallery, to helping open the Rubenstein Arts Center as a member of its CAST team, Jeainny Kim’s senior year at Duke was busy with arts opportunities across campus.

Jeainny is a Visual Art major, a Computer Science minor, and she also earned a Certificate in Documentary Studies. In recognition of her artistic accomplishments at Duke, the university’s Council for the Arts awarded Jeainny with its prestigious Sudler Prize in response to a nomination by Wesley Hogan, Director, Center for Documentary Studies. Jeainny also received the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation Award, which is presented to an outstanding graduating senior in the Visual Arts, as determined by the Art and Art History faculty.

Read on to meet Jeainny through an interview by Cameron Oglesby (Class of 2021). Jeainny talks about how she has seen the arts grow at Duke, finding her community, and what’s next (hint: a Djembe drum installation).

From all of us at Duke Arts, we wish Jeainny congratulations, and look forward to following her career!

Jeainny at her opening at the Power Plant Gallery.

Cameron Oglesby (CO): What is your primary medium?

Jeainny Kim (JK): My main medium right now is scanner works. I’ve done portrait photography for seven years. I started scanner works when I got to college. I also recently started making films. If you go on my Instagram, there are several ten- to thirty-second videos that I make from footage I’ve collected from around the world, and from my world as I walk through it.

CO: What about your background made you interested in the arts?

JK: I did photography for a while and I knew that when I got to college, I really wanted to pursue the arts. Art was really underfunded at my high school. Our art studio was in the basement with—it was such a fire hazard!—the same dried acrylic paint from 50 years ago. I knew that at Duke I would get to take the classes I wanted. I found the experience to be really beneficial.

CO: Have you found Duke Arts to be what you were hoping for?

JK: Yes! I think my four years were a very big transition time for the arts at Duke. When I first came here, it was not what I expected. For example, resources were closed off to me because I was not taking a certain class. But I think I found what I needed to find. I was able to take two graduate-level courses in the MFA EDA and that really helped me.

Now, I think Duke is very encouraging about the arts. For example, take our job as CAST members. Before, we didn’t have student jobs that teach you arts management.

Jeainny puts a temporary Ruby tattoo on a young visitor as a Creative Arts Student Team member at the grand opening celebration on February 3. Photo by Robert Zimmerman.

CO: Did you feel any pressure to change your major or not pursue the arts?

JK: I had that dilemma and it was devastating. I felt the “sophomore slump” hit and I felt that if I do this thing that I really love— art—I would be a failure because I didn’t see any full-time, professional artists around me. Everyone else had these really laid out tracks to pre-med, to the sciences. I had to really work hard to find my community, but once I did I felt a lot better.

CO: What was your best experience in the arts at Duke?

JK: I can talk about two things. Duke gave me funding to complete an art residency in photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. It culminated in a final exhibition at the Flat Iron Gallery—my first real exhibition. That was the first time I realized my art had an audience. I never thought my art was good enough. I never even called myself an artist because I just didn’t think I was good enough, but during the exhibition I saw this lady come in, whip out her phone, and take a picture of my work. She thought my work was good enough to take a picture of it and that really struck me. I’m really grateful to have had that experience. It gave me the confidence boost to be more serious about my work.

I also participated in the new professional development program with the Power Plant gallery in downtown Durham. I had my first professional solo exhibition there, and I worked with the director on all the logistics. I did the framing, I printed my work—there are so many aspects to putting together an exhibition that people don’t realize. On top of school work, I put in around forty hours a week on my exhibition. Grueling, but at the same time, I learned so much.

Visitors to Thick as Thieves at the Power Plant Gallery. Photo by Katy Clune.

CO: What about the arts do you enjoy the most, either in general or, specifically the arts community at Duke? In other words, why do you do art?

JK: When everything else failed during my sophomore year, art was the one thing that I kept doing. On the days that I felt awful, I would pick up my camera at 1 or 2am because I couldn’t sleep. I would take pictures while there was no one outside. They were sad pictures, but the process helped me continue to see the beautiful things in life.

Art is what made me realize the world is not so bad. It gave me a lot of strength and I realized—wow, if this is the one thing I turn to when I’m at rock bottom—then this is what I need to do.

CO: What do you feel the purpose of art is?

JK: That depends on the person. For me, art is a way of navigating my world. It is also a way for me to talk to other people. When I see people respond to my work, I think that is the best part. You realize everyone has their own universe and through my art, we are connecting for a very brief moment and that’s very valuable to me.

Jeainny Kim, On the Mend, 2017.

CO: What are your future plans with arts whether be career-wise or otherwise?

JK: I want to continue making work, continue making installations. I have a lot of ideas I want to get going—I’m currently working on this project on West African Djembe drums. I’ll be moving to New York to continue my projects and art career.

CO: So you want to be a freelance artist?

JK: I would prefer not to be. I would prefer to have a job that pays well and that doesn’t destroy me so that I have enough energy to make my work at night and on the weekends. That’s my plan. I just want to keep making work.

Power Plant Gallery. Photo by Katy Clune.
Jeainny and her father at the Duke Arts Awards Ceremony. Photo by Robert Zimmerman.

“This is the one time where people are so willing to help you and not nip you in the bud. That’s very important. When everyone is saying ‘Yes!’— take advantage of that. It is what you make out of it.”—Jeainny Kim

CO: Is there anything else you would like to share about your art experience at Duke?

JK: I think people have a lot here and it can get confusing. But with the Ruby now open, and so many visiting artists on campus, I would say: Go see the artist that you want to become. If you’re interested in ballet, the American Ballet Theatre and Misty Copeland are coming—go see her and go talk to her!

This is the one time where people are so willing to help you and not nip you in the bud. That’s very important. When everyone is saying “Yes!”— take advantage of that. It is what you make out of it.

(Editor’s note: The ABT Studio Company will be on Duke’s campus, while ABT will perform Giselle at DPAC. More on this exciting upcoming residency.)


Cameron Oglesby (Class of 2021) is planning to major in Environmental Science with a focus in Ecology and double minor in Earth and Ocean Sciences and Studio Arts. She believes art can send a message and be a call-to-action, especially as it relates to the importance of environmental awareness and ecological preservation and conservation. Next year, Cameron will continue her work in planetary protection as President of Duke’s Environmental Alliance and her work in artistic expression as Co-Vice President of Programming for duARTS.