Committing to a Career, Landing in Qatar

featuring Leekyung Kang MFA 17 Printmaking, artist-in-residence

The following story by Lauren Maas originally appeared in the News section of RISD's main website.

Last summer, when Leekyung Kang MFA 17 PR accepted a nine-month position as artist-in-residence at VCUarts Qatar (Virginia Commonwealth University’s art and design branch campus in Doha, Qatar), she was taking a leap into the unknown. “I was excited but also a little concerned because I had never even heard of the city when I got the offer,” she admits in speaking about her initial response to the post-graduate opportunity.

With encouragement from the Career Center’s Grants & Residencies Coordinator Lisa Cramer, Kang had originally applied for VCU’s year-long Fountainhead Fellowship at the university’s home campus in Richmond, VA. Since applicants are also automatically eligible for a similar position at the Qatari branch campus, she ended up there—in the Painting & Printmaking (PAPR) department—for the 2017/18 academic year.

“I decided to challenge myself—to have an adventurous moment,” Kang says in explaining her decision to accept the offer in Doha. “I wanted to try being outside of my comfort zone… that sort of thing ought to always be interesting to a creative person—and actually, it’s been really good so far.”

In addition to being given the time, space and resources necessary to mount a solo exhibition at the end of the year, Kang taught a drawing course in the fall and will be teaching PAPR students again in the spring. Additionally, the fellowship provides for housing, a stipend and transportation.

Halfway through the experience, Kang says that transportation is key. Despite her initial trepidation about Doha’s high-octane, super car-obsessed driving culture, she loves having a rental car so that she can get out of the city. “I’m interested in landscapes,” she says, “and the surrealism of the desert is something I’m really enjoying exploring in my work.”

Kang's paintings are based on her own photographs and Google Earth images of the Qatari desert.

Kang is currently documenting the country’s sloping dunes and craggy escarpments for her year-end show, using the photos she takes as source material for subsequent paintings and video installations. Her fascination with the “in-between space” that landscapes occupy as they transition from physical states to digital representations began with Lamination of Reality, the title of her thesis work at RISD.

The ability to focus on creating a body of work is a luxury not lost on Kang, but what’s struck her as most valuable about the fellowship is its unique combination of studio and teaching responsibilities. “For a recent MFA graduate, being in the classroom is an awesome opportunity,” she notes.

Once the fellowship wraps up at the end of the semester, Kang plans to pursue other teaching opportunities and has already started the application process. This work ethic is partly intrinsic to her nature, partly due to habits developed at RISD and partly based on necessity since she hopes to pursue her creative practice in the US.

“As an international student, I knew right away that if I wanted to stay in the States I’d need to apply for another visa after graduation and for that I would need to be able to show I’ve been a working artist,” Kang explains. This recognition led her to seek out residencies and exhibition opportunities which, in turn, led her to tap into resources at RISD’s Center for Arts & Language and the Career Center, where she met Cramer.

“Lisa helped me so much in the process as I applied for pretty much anything outside of school.” Kang explains. ”I’ve recommended the Career Center to so many people as a result.”

While the native of Seoul has set her sights on setting up a studio in a creative hub such as New York, she’s mindful to take a global approach when exposing her students in Doha to contemporary art. “I try to introduce them to everything,” she says—“not just to what’s happening in Chelsea galleries but also to East Asian artists. The arts community in Doha is growing and I’m lucky to have students there who are serious about learning and becoming artists.”

Teaching others how to take their own potential seriously seems to be foremost among Kang's talents—one she models best through example.

Related links

Queering Space

featuring Tori Deutch MArch 19 Architecture, Wintersession course instructor

The Gravedigger

by Thalassa Raasch MFA 16 Photography, RISD GS|Grant recipient

Shanzai in Shanghai

by Amanda Pickens MFA 15 Graphic Design, RISD GS|Grant recipient