*2nd Place, 2D: Joseph Pak – Middleman

Artist: Joseph Pak
Title: Middleman
Media: Oil Paint, Charcoal
Grade: 12th
School: The College Preparatory School
Artwork Created Independently



“Middleman” was a personal identity piece on what it means to be Korean-American through an exploration of the 1992 LA Riots. While I wasn’t born at the time, my parents and other family members were, some being forced to take arms from rooftops to defend their livelihoods. I recall their recounting the events and other immigrant stories from their own parents, my grandparents. I heard about endemic racism, class struggle, language, and cultural barriers, political exploitation failed government institutions, and a history of deep longing for opportunity. I wanted to portray my Korean-American story differently, as a buffer between oppressors and the oppressed.

The middle panel presents a decision on which orientation to view the piece. When national flags are presented upside down, it signifies distress and a cry for help. I wanted to capture this from the standpoint of identity, while simultaneously wrestling with the obvious inter-race relations question.