Bring Me Home
For the longest time I was convinced blood and heritage were irrelevant. “You’re shaped by your surroundings and environment,” I thought, “by the people closest to you.” I was taken as a small baby from “the Far East,” and planted into a working class family in the northern countryside of Sweden. Was I not a malleable little sprout expected to adapt to my new environment seamlessly?
However, regardless of how much I grew and my new roots dug into the Swedish soil, I was still so different from my Swedish family. Environment couldn’t explain how I developed such a distinct interest in the arts, music, and language when they weren’t mirrored in anyone that I knew while growing up. My parents stood rather clueless outside of my fantasy world built from drawings and paintings. I nurtured my creativity alone.
When I started art school, I presented my detailed, small, and colorful watercolors, which were romantic looking, soft, and quiet. The teachers recommended that I try working with oil, that I work bigger and use bigger brushes. I learned that the images I grew up with were considered kitsch by the middle class. My mother’s wall was decorated with textiles embroidered with quotes praising the calm and quiet home, along with prints of farmers or workers dreaming of a day’s rest. All of this was embedded in my own paintings without me realizing it. Even if I tried, I couldn’t erase a visual language that was considered frivolous.
This is a watercolor of me and my Swedish mother—burning debris in the yard, preparing for fall.
Ornaments and romanticism aren’t what you associate contemporary painting with, but for my mother the romantic images she has at home are an expression of longing—a longing for less heavy work, dreaming of wealth when money is scarce, and wishing for good health and a nice safe home. That’s what I interpreted from the art I grew up with. I think it’s beautiful and honest, but it represents a world that few of my classmates were very familiar with.
At the age of 19, I was reunited with my Korean family. I was surprised to find out that both my older sisters grew up with a strong creative urge. They used to write poems and painted when they were young. My father played a little bit of guitar. None of them got the opportunity to develop their skills further, but it had been there. I could see that my sister had the same personality as me, and that my angry face definitely came from my father. And yet, they were complete strangers to me.
It was comforting knowing that even my artistic side did actually have roots, and that it came from somewhere and someone. It felt validating knowing it was a part of me, that it was something I had kept and cared for, and not something I had grabbed/added. After that, my Korean heritage started claiming more space in my art. Exoticized and ignorant in the beginning, but my art became more confident and educated as I grew.
This is a watercolor and gouache portrait of me and my Korean mother, in her home in Busan.
These days, I’m waiting to start a Ph.D. program in illustration in Stockholm. I will be the first one in my family and amongst my relatives to become a Ph.D. student. I’m going to write about and illustrate my adoptee experience and show through my work the interaction of upbringing, belonging, and heritage—a “betweenship” I believe many of us adoptees feel. My latest works of art have been a series of portraits of me with my Swedish and Korean families, portrayed in locations important to me, and painted in a way that is reminiscent of motifs that could be found in a Swedish countryside home.
It is an homage to what I admire and love about the Swedish countryside, but it is an expression of sorrow and loss as well. Behind every international adoption is still the heartbreaking severing of a mother and her child.
Cecilia Hei Mee Flumé was born in 1987 in Busan, South Korea, and raised in Umeå, Sweden. She got her B.A. in Art History and MA in Visual Communication in Stockholm. Cecilia now lives and works in Stockholm, and will soon start her Ph.D. in Illustration at Konstfack University. You can connect with Cecilia on Facebook.
Cover photo credit: Jimmy Flumé