Forty Years with Paik Nam-june Fondly Remembered

      January 24, 2007 09:12

      Shigeko Kubota

      The wife of late video artist Paik Nam-june will arrive in Seoul Saturday to commemorate with friends the first anniversary of his death. Shigeko Kubota plans to attend a memorial ceremony to be held at the Bongeunsa Temple in Seoul and visit his museum in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

      Kubota spoke with the Chosun Ilbo on the phone from her home in Manhattan, New York, Sunday and Monday. Although she and her husband argued frequently, Kubota said, she loved Paik with all her heart and feels that he has been with her constantly since he passed away.

      ◆ How has the last year been for you?

      Paik was wheelchair-bound since a stroke in 1996, and in that time I had no free time. We had a nurse with us all the time and I had to do many things for him. I had to take him to the doctor, talk to his doctors, help him exercise. This is the first time I've had to myself in almost a decade, and I spend it watching videos of him. I videoed him every day while he was alive, like keeping a diary.

      I have 27,300 videotapes at home that my husband and I took of each other. You might wonder if watching them makes me cry? It sure does. How can I not cry? I cry, I laugh, I get mad, I talk, I do all sorts of things. I fall asleep and wake up listening to his voice.

      Paik and Kubota first met in Tokyo in 1963 and shuttled between Seoul and Tokyo to see each other. When Paik left New York for a teaching job at the California Institute of the Arts in 1970, Kubota told him that she could not live in New York without him and joined him in California. They lived together for seven years before getting married.

      ◆ What made you love him so passionately?

      You know how many Japanese women these days like handsome Korean actors like Bae Yong-joon? I may have been the first such woman. The very first moment I saw Paik, I thought to myself, "Wow, he's so handsome, gorgeous, and smart."

      Paik Nam-june

      I didn't love him because he was famous. When I met him in the 1960s, he was a poor, obscure artist who was known only among avant-garde artists. He came from a rich family, but the family money was gone and his parents were dead by then.

      Our life was hard in New York. Even when we had to sleep on the floor because we didn’t have a bed, he told me that he needed 100 TVs for his work. He was jobless until he got a teaching position at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art in Germany in 1977.

      I worked at a Japanese school in New York for our living. We had many fights over money. Sometimes he said to me, "I wish my wife was a famous artist like Yoko Ono." I was so angry. "What? Do you really mean that?" I said.

      ◆ What was he like in private?

      He was smart, sweet and funny and he was good in bed.

      Kubota struggled as an artist while her husband's fame grew. She produced her own works, sometimes holding shows with her husband and sometimes showing independently, until Paik's stroke.

      Now 10 years later, she is planning to pursue her craft again with a solo exhibition in New York in September.

      I wasn't ambitious, Kubota said. I was very happy with Paik. He had a sister who died as young girl who he missed all his life, so I became like a sister to him as well as a wife, she added.

      She stressed again how much they loved each other for the 40 years they were together. She told him once that he should have married a rich woman who could hold as many shows for him as he wanted, not someone like her from an ordinary family.

      But that wouldn't have suited Paik. He simply replied that he didn't want those women because they're arrogant, she said.

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