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 addresses 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.