Maria Yoon, aka Maria the Korean Bride / What would you think if a woman dressed in a traditional Korean wedding hanbok in funereal colors, complete with headdress and yonjo konji dots on her face arrived at a dog musher’s lair in Alaska?
Meet performance artist Maria Yoon, aka Maria the Korean Bride, who is on a country-wide journey to marry in each state to challenge traditional notions of Korean femininity and to be “the voice of unmarried Asian American women.”
About to partake in her 46th wedding, Yoon, who was born in Korea and raised in NewYork City, does the deed in Honolulu this weekend.
The early stages of Yoon’s project included marrying a showgirl dressed up as Diana Ross in Las Vegas, a salsa dancer in Puerto Rico and a lesbian in Massachusetts. While aware of the role of ethnicity in her project, Yoon recalled an experience in Wisconsin that changed her approach. A Miller Lite brewery manager told her, “I want you to go back to your country.”
Yoon says of the experience, “I was crying and sobbing like a 5-year-old girl. I said to myself, ‘What did I just experience? People might see me as a foreigner visiting their land for the first time.’” It was this desperation that drove her to unintentionally push the boundaries of her project–by marrying an inanimate object. It was an embroidered Miller Lite logo shirt from the gift shop. Since then, her spouses have included a black Angus bull in Nebraska and the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania.
As Yoon develops a concept of who or what she wants to marry in each state, her spouses also turn into a meditation on insider/outsider notions of each state’s identity. A barbecued-pork lover represents North Carolina, a surfer represents California. Her project also cuts to the core of people’s beliefs. In Vermont, a maple tree farmer signed her artist contract and let her marry one of his maple trees. Upon later learning of her views supporting same-sex marriage and being pro-choice, the farmer wanted out. As for the Asian American community, Yoon says reactions have ranged from support and understanding from young women to other artists calling her project a disgrace to Korean culture. And while many Asian Americans volunteer to help as camera operators or crew, Yoon has yet to marry an Asian American for her project.
A real Spam jam
That her Hawaii groom’s name is Spam isn’t surprising, given Yoon’s spousal track record. Who wouldn’t want to marry a hunk of pink potted meat? “He feels like Spam to me!” Yoon says of the mystery fiancé. However, it turns out that her groom-to-be’s nickname is Spam from childhood. He’s of Samoan and Filipino descent, covered in tattoos, and will be Yoon’s first Pacific Islander spouse. On Facebook, he shared that “kids would go to school with an apple. I had a block of Spam.”
“If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is,” says Yoon of her Hawaii luck.
Yoon was also lucky to find Kahu Pomaikai to perform a traditional Hawaiian wedding ceremony, as it’s harder finding someone to officiate than to marry. Some reverends feel as if they will consecrate the sacred notion of marriage by participating in Yoon’s project. Local curator Trisha Lagaso Goldberg is the wedding planner, assisting with the reception and artist performance (the marriage). Another treat lies ahead for the wedding. “An exotic dancer reached out to me when she saw my posting on Craigslist for a groom,” says Yoon. In exchange for exposure, the dancer, MaJiQuE NOIR, will give a private lap dance on a bus to a small group of guests.
Reverends, exotic dancers and Spam. Yoon says, “I don’t know what it is. But this is going to be very spiritual for me.”