Dohee Lee Brings an Art Installation to Peralta Hacienda Park

Korean-born Dohee Lee, the highly trained dancer and musician steeped in Korean Shamanism, oversees the music, dance, storytelling, food, movement, art, and local performance ensembles in the park.


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Photo by Jino Han

The date is Oct. 5. On that day and with MU (Shaman) Fall Village Ritual, the Peralta Hacienda Park becomes a place where East Oakland pays tribute to its different communities that make a kind of global village in which long-term residents rub elbows with later arrivals from around the globe. Korean-born artist Dohee Lee and her collaborators will turn the park into an art installation with multiple performance areas. The free event will include music, dance, storytelling, food, movement, art, and local performance ensembles. The afternoon is part of a multi-year project commissioned by a Hewlett Foundation 50 Arts Commission grant.

About 10 years ago, Lee became locally known as an exquisite interdisciplinary performer whose meticulous movements, stillness, drumming, vocalizations, elaborate costumes, and sets drew you into unknown worlds of mystery and wonder. But this extraordinary artist is actually much more than that.

Born on Jeju, the idyllic island south of the Korean mainland, Lee may be a highly trained dancer and musician, but she is also steeped in Korean Shamanism. Jeju, she has said, is believed to be the embodiment of the creator goddess of Korean mythology, with over 13,000 gods and goddesses inhabiting the island.

But Jeju is also a place of unbelievable sufferings, one of the worst of which occurred on April 3, 1948. A local uprising against the national government’s plan to divide Korea into halves and the installation of what turned out to be dictator Syngman Rhee, resulted in a massacre of 10 percent of the population and half of all the villages. For decades, this horrific event officially never happened and couldn’t be talked about, but the people of Jeju still ritualistically commemorate this genocide every April 3. This history — and the presence of the current U.S. naval installation — has marked Lee.

She sees her work in terms of its healing power, and the art maker believes that rituals connect us with our past and give us the strength to confront our struggles. So instead of focusing her promising career on her solo performances, Lee and her Puri Arts organization started working with deracinated refugees and immigrant communities. From the stories they brought with them on their journeys to putting roots in what was alien ground, they create new myths that pay tribute to their heritage even as they grow strong into the future. This is Lee’s largest project ever.

The Peralta Hacienda Park seems a particularly suitable space for this community event. Now considered the birthplace of Oakland, it was once part of a 45,000-acre land grant to a single family. It stretched from San Leandro to what is now Albany. Before that time, it had been inhabited for centuries by the Ohlone people. While the restored main house in the 6-acre park may be well known, Wikipedia describe the area “as a historic landscape that witnessed the rise and fall of the Spanish-speaking people land-owning Peralta family, and the fate of the landless Mexicans and Native Peoples with whom their fate was linked. In turn it became home to settlers from Spain, Mexico and the United States” and many others folks who have made and are still making East Oakland their home.

Performing, among others, at the MU Fall Village Ritual will be East Oakland Community organizations Bay Area Bhutanese Youth, CoRazOn, Ieumsae Korean Drumming Ensemble, and Teatro Jornalero.

MU Fall Village Ritual, Sat., Oct. 5., noon-5 p.m., free, Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, 2465 34th Ave., Oakland. 

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