“I am adaptable but also stubborn” laughs Agne, when asked what it is that has helped her take to the culture of Jeju so easily.
Adaptable she certainly is. She has learned the language, been influenced by the island in her artwork, and had numerous exhibitions in the island’s galleries. That is easy to see. Where then, does the stubbornness come in?
“I will try to maintain my ideas of what is right,” she says. A mindset that is no doubt crucial to keeping your personality when moving into a different place with a different culture. The key though, is learning when to adapt and when to be stubborn.
Agne, who is originally from Lithuania, feels she has a good grasp of this. In fact, she has one realisation that she believes should always taken into consideration when meeting people from a different culture.
“You have to realize that what you learned for 25 years has been completely different to what other people in a different culture learned for 25 years,” she says. “All your learning doesn’t apply anymore. You need to learn a different system.”
This is where confusion and misunderstanding can come in. However, by understanding where other people are coming from, she thinks it can be much easier to understand another culture.
Agne explained that even within her own family, the generations had highly different experiences. She was born in the Soviet Union and while she doesn’t have any real memories of this, her parents and grandparents grew up in this system that is vastly different to the one she grew up in.
Perhaps this early knowledge of the fact that different upbringings can affect your outlook on life helped her when she moved to Korea. In fact, she points out that simply by learning about another’s culture and upbringing you can get a better understanding of what a person and their culture is about.
“Even though I didn’t experience the same things as them, I want to build an understanding of what they went through and their experiences. [..] I like childhood stories to learn about these differences.”
However, for Agne, it isn’t all about cultural difference and in fact she mentions that many things on Jeju make her feel at home.
She points to the population which is similar to Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, and the tourist/international community on Jeju which gives her access to world communities.
Of course, it isn’t a one-way street and Agne has been influenced by many aspects of Jeju culture and used them in her artwork. Her recent exhibition in Seogwipo showed some of her most recent paintings which feature Jeju scenery, portraits of haenyeo, and pieces that use a traditional Korean paper art form.
She feels that by doing this she is able to contribute to the culture that she likes and is living in, as well as bring a different perspective to things on Jeju.
One noticeable feature throughout her work is that a recognizable character appears in many of her paintings. This blond haired figure bears some familiarity with the artist herself, although, wasn’t originally supposed to be Agne. However, she explains that after being asked about it so many times she decided to give in and say that it was her.
And anyway, she says that while the character may not have purposefully been drawn to represent her, on some level, all her drawings, especially those drawn from her own experiences, feature herself.
“Art reflects the artist. If an artist draws something they are naturally going to be incorporated into the painting. When I first drew the character I started to realize that it looked like me. The paintings are a story from my experience and they are going to reflect me.”
If this is the case then her paintings certainly show someone that is at one with Jeju. One of her paintings shows this character in the middle of some of Jeju’s black volcanic rocks. The character’s body tessellates perfectly suggesting someone that feels completely at home.
Another painting, this time of Hyeopjae Beach, shows the character asleep in the sand, seemingly at peace with everything that is going on.
She explains that “each painting shows the result of her journey at each stage of her life.” As she is currently on Jeju, it is only natural that her paintings will take on the aspects of the culture she is living in.
This feeling of someone at one with Jeju gained from her paintings suggests that perhaps she feels like she is at one with the culture. However, she disagrees with this idea and uses an interesting metaphor to explain how she feels. “The deeper you go into the forest the more trees you find.”
She built on this by explaining that she hopes to continue learning and being influenced by the new culture that she is living in.
Of course, despite her modest outlook, not many people would disagree with the fact that she has a good understanding of Jeju. To continue the forest analogy, she is certainly deep enough to find a lot of trees that, perhaps, not many others will ever find.
Agne’s current exhibition runs till the end of June at Seogwipo Cultural Battery Station in the center of Seogwipo. You can also catch her on Jeju TV channel JIBS on her new TV show “Secret Island.”
By Duncan Elder