The exhibition time-travels from contemporary Dutch society and the participation of thousands of Dutch soldiers in the deadly Korean War (1950–1953) to early Dutch colonial descriptions of Asian people and cultures. The colonial print Een Schaman ofte Duyvel-Priester (1692), by Dutch V.O.C. director Nicolaes Witsen plays a crucial role in the film. It is the first Western depiction of a shaman and set the tone for a centuries-long history of racialized and infantilizing descriptions of Asian people. The print marks the beginning of the development of colonial imagery, which was accompanied by the violent eradication of shamanic cultures by Christian missionaries, Western interference in the Korean War, which claimed the lives of millions of Koreans, and the related emergence of the large-scale transracial adoption industry. In the Netherlands alone around 40,000 people have been adopted from the Global South, often through child trafficking and with falsified documents.
For decades, signs have been ignored that children have been taken from their parents without consent and trafficked into Europe and the United States by adoption agencies with forged identities to meet the high demand for children in the West. The title Four Months, Four Million Light Years refers to the Korean law that required a minimum stay of four months in a Korean orphanage before a child was legally ‘adoptable’ to the lucrative adoption industry.
Reminiscent of a shamanic temple, the installation brings together historical and psychological research and various film genres. Self-created music and songs, visual and shamanic poems flow together with watercolors of visions, collective experiences, and documentary fragments. As in a shamanic healing journey, linearity is dissolved.
Through the rhythm of the drum and projected visions, the visitor falls into a trance and into an ‘ancestral healing zone’. In addition to the film, the installation consists of drawings, textiles, and hand-painted text banners. The film is not only about those who have undergone adoption, but also addresses those who have perpetuated the system of child trafficking and child theft.
Four Months, Four Million Light Years invokes the ancestral connection and is a tribute to all who have been separated from their mothers, fathers, family, ancestors, country, culture, and spirits. It comes as a follow-up to Chang’s ongoing project The Mother Mountain Institute (2017-ongoing), which collects and brings forward the testimonies of mothers from the Global South whose children have been trafficked for transnational adoption.
This exhibition was curated together with Sjoerd Kloosterhuis.