Gala Porras-Kim, who is half-Korean, was born in Bogota, Colombia and received an M.F.A. from California Institute of the Arts. She is interested in how cultural objects acquire meaning and value and how they function across history.
In 2010, when Porras-Kim returned to Los Angeles from a residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, she stayed in an apartment in L.A.’s Koreatown. She used this neighborhood as inspiration and began to study Korean after noticing that business signs, that used Korean characters to spell out English words, had to be translated back again for non-Korean speakers. This appealed to her interest in the codes and structures of language that would lay the foundation for future work, one of which was “Prospecting Notes About Sounds” about the Zapotec language.
She worked on a project where tones alone could be used to communicate language. Her 2012 work “For Learning Zapotec Verbs” is made from wood, paper, graphite, and wire, as she brings the worlds of ethnography, linguistics, and colonial politics into this art piece.
Her “La Mojarra Stela” series was devoted to translations and mistranslations of early Meso-American scripts on a monument in Mexico. This work attracted a lot of attention at the 2019 Whitney Biennial.
A few years ago, Porras-Kim looked through Harvard’s Peabody Museum for artifacts stolen from the Mayan city of Chichen Itza. She drew many of them and put them in an exhibit along with documentation as to how they got to the United States.
For a show at L.A.’s Hammer Museum, Porras-Kim took obscure ethnographic objects from U.C L.A.’s Fowler Museum, all of which had been categorized as ‘unidentified’, and placed these fragments on display in a contemporary art show. Her focus examines how context changes an object’s meaning as these seemingly valueless objects, divorced from their history and their owners, can help a viewer to remember those who had made them.
For an exhibit at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, she indexed Western Mexican ceramics from LACMA’s own collection and considered their possible functions through sculpture, creating new objects that may themselves become artifacts in the future.
Porras-Kim has had solo shows in Los Angeles and Mexico City and has exhibited in France, Colombia, Mexico City, Los Angeles, and New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. Her work was shown at the Whitney Biennial, and she had a show at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art.