Dohee Lee

Dohee Lee

Fellow: Awarded 2018
Field of Study: Drama and Performance Art

Competition: US & Canada

Why do we need myth? Myth connects us to our land and to each other. Myth connects us through time and space. From our homelands to our newlands. From ancestor time to the present, shining a light on how we may continue in the future.

Everywhere, the connection of original peoples to their land has been fractured or lost, and with that, myths and rituals disappear. Through this process of modernization we lose a body of wisdom accumulated over millennia that served as a blueprint of how to protect and sustain humanity.

My journey took me back to my homeland, Jeju island. The island itself is believed to be the physical body of Sulmundae, the creator goddess of Korean mythology. Jeju is the heart of Mugyo (Korean shamanism) – there are over 13,000 gods and goddess on the island. Jeju has so much pain and beauty through myth and history.

Nowadays, they say Jeju has three abundances: wind, stone, and women – Jeju samdado (“three many”). Women free divers fill the markets with fresh seafood. their Yeodo (song) and their soombisori sound (the whistling noise that they release when they come up for air) against a backdrop of the harsh ocean waves. Memories of my grandmother feeding me fresh abalone and the thick silence felt in my grandparents’ traditional jogajip home – silent memories of past tragedies. Sasam, the Jeju massacre, April 3rd, 1948. Families, neighbors, and villages divided. Visiting these massacre sites, including Halla Mountain, I constantly found myself in the company of a murder of crows. It seemed to me that they were witnesses and protectors of the land and lost souls. Watching me, piercing me with their gaze and asking, “what did you see?” “what did you hear?” My eyes traveled back to the ocean, where the construction of a US Naval base is once again destroying the land and people. Drills cut into ancient volcanic stone and families, neighbors and villages divided again. Sixty years. It still continues.

We urgently need myths and rituals to regain what we have lost in this destruction. How can we remember the songs of our ancestors, the words that they spoke, their care of land, people and spirits? I believe that art has the power to creatively confront our struggles – to regain our strength and to take action. That is why my creative journey is centered in ritual. I dedicate my performance as a ritual to not only discover my own history and myth, but also invite others to discover their own. Myths are not just tales from long ago – they are launching points for taking stories into you and transforming those stories into new personal myth. Though this process, I believe we can be empowered in our lives like mythical deities.

I was born on Jeju Island, South Korea and spent the first part of my life in Korea training in the practices of Korean traditional music and dance, and the ritual practices of Korean Shamanism.

Instead of continuing a career as a touring traditional artist in Korea, I immigrated to Oakland, CA in 2002 to follow my life path – creating a new ritual performance form, combining my training in ancient shamanic ritual practices with post-modern performance styles and electronics.

In Oakland, I became a traditional Korean music and dance instructor and began immersing myself in contemporary performance forms. I formed my first performance series, Puri Project, in 2004, leading to collaborations with Kronos Quartet, Degenerate Art Ensemble, Larry Ochs, inkBoat, Asian Improv Arts, Anna Halprin, Amara Tabor Smith, Tatsu Aoki and many others in the new music/performance world.

For the past 9 years, I have worked closely with Anna Halprin. I have danced in her productions and I am now on teaching staff at Tamalpa Institute. She has become an important teacher and mentor to me.

I founded Dohee Lee Puri Arts in 2014 as a producing organization for my community projects here in the Bay Area and for touring my multimedia performance pieces and teaching workshops. The mission of Puri Arts is to practice and perform art to commune and heal with people and spirits. The organization utilizes ritual to heal fractured relationships in the urban environment between humans and the land and between individuals and their communities. Our original performance works emphasize the mythical, experimental, ritualistic, historical and healing aspects of performance and installation, catalyzing new relationships between identity, nature, spirituality, and the political.

My Guggenheim Fellowship project, MU/巫, pilots a shamanic model of utilizing traditional arts and culture for engaging immigrant and refugee groups. I am collaborating with local immigrant and refugee community groups to tell their migration journey stories. Together, we are creating new myths to carry our cultures, identity, and languages and reflect our stories in the USA.

We are developing performance-based community rituals in an extended process of collective healing. This is a community engagement strategy to lift up and support the leadership, visibility and voices of diverse immigrant and refugee communities. Through reclaiming our own myths, we also honor indigenous land, people and their myths.

Recent Awards
2018 University of California Critical Refugee Studies MRPI Grant; 2017 Hewlett 50 Music Commission; 2017 Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Artist-in-Residence; 2017 Zellerbach Family Foundation; 2016 Herb Alpert Award, Music; 2016 Kenneth Rainin Foundation, New & Experimental Works Program; 2016 City of Oakland Cultural Funding Award; 2016 New Music USA Project Grant; 2016 Korean Americans for Peace Award; 2016 MAP; 2015 Doris Duke Impact Award, Multidisciplinary Performance, Theatre; 2015 CCI Investing in Artists Grant; 2015 Gerbode Choreographer Commission; 2015 Alpert/Ucross Residency Prize; 2014 Honorary fellowship of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; 2014 Montalvo Arts Center Lucas Artist Residency; 2014 Djerassi Artist Residency; 2013 East Bay Community Foundation; 2013 MAP Fund; 2013 Creative Capital Award; 2013 Other Minds Festival 19 Commission; 2013 Paul Dresher Artist Residency Center; 2012 Headlands Art Center Residency.

Education & Trainings
2016 Sound, Voice and Music in the Healing Arts Certificate, California Institute of Integral Studies
2009–2013 Tamalpa Institute, Kentfield, CA
1993–1996 Suwon Women’s College, South Korea, B.A. Korean traditional dance
1997–2000 Yong-in University, South Korea, B.A. Korean traditional music and dance

Dance of the Scarf (Korean intangible cultural asset #97) representing the Korean people’s grief, spirit and delight, Maebang Lee style
Waebuk (temple drumming) style of human cultural asset Maebang Lee
Korean drumming from You Jiwha and Pilbong (intangible cultural asset #11) Pansori (Korean opera) from Korean national Pansori arts company
Korean Mask dance of Gosung Okwangdae (intangible cultural asset #7)
Korean Kyunggi region shamanic music (intangible cultural asset #98)

Village versus Empire, documentary on Dohee Lee, directed by Mark J. Kaplan

Jeju, Art documentary film on Dohee Lee, directed by Eugene Sa

Korean-Born Artist Raises Immigrant Voices Through Performance, KQED Mini Documentary, directed by Benjamin Michel

Video Clips
Dohee Lee Super Cut
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha Ritual — NYC & Oakland
Korean-Born Artist Raises Immigrant Voices Through Performance

Profile photograph by Pak Han

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