Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide), Four Months, Four Million Light Years, 2020, video, colour, sound, 35΄, textiles, paper, watercolour on paper, installation view (detail), 11th Berlin Biennale, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, 2020. Courtesy Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide); photograph: Silke Briel

Four Months, Four Million Light Years is a shamanic healing journey through space and time. This immersive film installation unravels the colonial narratives behind transnational and transracial adoption, specifically the historical relations between The Netherlands and Korea.


The colonial print Een Schaman ofte Duyvel-Priester [Shaman or Devil’s Priest from the Tungus, 1692] by Dutchman Nicolaes Witsen acts as a pivotal point for a spiritual journey through time. This print is the first Western depiction of a shaman. It marks the beginning of a long history of racialised and infantilising descriptions of Asian people by white Europeans and the violent eradiation of shamanistic cultures by missionaries.


The exhibition time-travels from contemporary Dutch society and the participation of 3,418 Dutch soldiers in the deadly Korean War (1950–1953) to early Dutch colonial descriptions of Asian people. In the Netherlands alone around 40,000 people have been adopted from the Global South, often through child trafficking and with falsified documents.


The four months of the title refer to a law that required a minimum stay of four months in a Korean orphanage in order to become adoptable by law for the lucrative transracial adoption industry. This industry started to flourish after the Korean War and continues to live off the same colonial imagery from 300 years ago.


Textile, paper text banners, and drawings surround a video projection. Shamanic poems, songs and visions invoke the ancestors for support. The work is an homage to those who have been cut off from their mothers, fathers, family, ancestors, land, culture, and spirits.


On 8 February 2021 the Dutch government has decided to end transnational adoptions, because of the systemic abuse, trafficking, and fraud inherent to them. The government has offered apologies to men and women with an adoption past. Flanders is currently investigating malpractices related to transnational adoption.


Artist, director, watercolors, camera, editing, text, drumming, voice over, sound: Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide) | Composing songs, singing: Yan Vandenbroucke | Korean percussion: Leslie Maes | Korean chanting: Jungrak Choi | Sound: Céline Gillain | Costumes: Lila John | Color grading: Paul Millot | Clinical psychologist: Miranda Ntirandekura Aerts | Special thanks to the Darghad shamans: Aminaa, Kyugagaa, Eden-Ochi, Umbaan, Saintsetseg and Korean mudang Jen Bosalnim | Supported by: The Mondriaan Foundation, GRIMONSTER residence, Korean Cultural Center of Brussels, Embassy of the Netherlands | Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, 11th Berlin Biennale




STATEMENT: After having a great conversation with Sarah van Bimsbergen, who wrote an in depth interview for de Volkskrant 19 January 2023, about 'Four Months, Four Million Light Years' at Rozenstraat for which I am grateful, unfortunately I do feel obliged to respond to the following wrong header from de Volkskrant where it claims that through the work I want to connect with my (family) and country of birth. For unclear reasons the editors refuse to make a correction. Through this work I DO NOT WANT to connect with my family of birth, neither with my country of birth. ('family' has been deleted, but originally this was written in by the editor as well).
As a person who has been adopted and critically looks at the (colonial) narratives and imagery around transnational and transracial adoption, that involves child abduction and child trafficking, it is painful and absurd that I have to write newspaper editors, that my work is NOT about me looking for my parents, nor connecting with my country of birth. There is a reductive sensationalism and mediatizing of a pity industry towards people who have been adopted. The point of the work is that I critically look at the colonial narratives, and that I wish The Netherlands to reflect on this.
There is a general pattern of how intimate biographical details of racialised artists are focused on by white journalists and newspapers, and in this case it completely misses the point what I do want to bring forward with this work: exposing the colonial narratives behind adoption and the abuse and the child trafficking. Which is the opposite of what de Volkskrant claims what I want with Four Months, Four Million Light Years.
Further, De Volkskrant claims I have been adopted IN Korea, which seems a minor and innocent typo but has a highly charged meaning, but of course completely missed by the editor.
In general there is an infantilising approach towards people who have been adopted, calling adults 'adoption children', while we are men and women who are in our 30's, 40', 50', or 60's.
I am sharing my thoughts here as I hope journalists and editors can be more respectful towards this sensitive issues, as it is not that much that I am asking here. Thanks. ❤