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"Inner Struggles" broadens personal stories to abstract art

<p>Filan's work will be displayed until Sept. 18. Visitors can see this work, "Ripped Apart," among her many pieces at the Durham Arts Council. </p>

Filan's work will be displayed until Sept. 18. Visitors can see this work, "Ripped Apart," among her many pieces at the Durham Arts Council. 

Misoo Filan is a woman of a heavy and emotionally turbulent past, but more than that, she is an artist of expression and communication. 

Having dealt with the isolation of moving to a foreign country, suffering childhood sexual abuse and being a new mother, Filan creates poignant, self reflective art pieces that stem from her life experiences and reflect the changes that she has undergone—from a victim to protector. Filan's artwork is currently being showcased at the exhibition "Inner Struggles Fought on Paper" at the Durham Art Council until Sept. 13. 

After moving to America at 18 years old after her father passed away, Filan found herself ostracized in a foreign-speaking high school. It became regular for her to wander the school halls alone while other students socialized and ate lunch. When her art teacher found out Filan spent her lunch alone, she offered the art room as a place for Filan to work in. From then on, painting became a "friend-making tool" that bridged the communication gap between Filan and her peers who reached out to Filan after seeing her paint.

After Filan became a mother, her artwork focused on images of her daughter being stolen away by a stranger often symbolized by a "bunny man," an attractive man with a colorful bunny mask hiding a molester or rapist underneath. The content of Filan's works remained dark, figurative and morose portrayals of the emotional turmoil that she underwent.

The reason stemmed largely from within Filan's memories. With a past scarred by sexual abuse, Filan turned her harrowing experiences into the theme of her art work. This theme also marked a transition in her art style, which began to take on more abstract images in contrast to her more telling past works of self portraits.

Even so, her current works also realize very specific moments in her life using a very particular choice of medium including ink and pencil, two antithetic tools both through the strokes they symbolize and the way they are used. In the art piece "Over My Silent Body", the painstakingly drawn pencil lines represent Filan's hair, a synecdoche for her own mind and body.

"Those hair-like ribbons underneath the ink and paint are quite beautifully done, possibly suggesting a certain elegance and beauty beneath the chaotic and messily thrown about paint,” said sophomore Alex Dai. “Filan seems to want to show us a duality to her nature.”

Ink is brushed almost spontaneously over the delicate and fragile pencil lines, as though moving by its own mind independent of the artist's power. The ink is symbolically the violent attacker while the penciled hair is the victim of sexual abuse. Filan also uses large white paper to create a space large enough for two people to violently struggle. Without the artist's statement, this specific backstory might not be apparent. Regardless, the contrast between pencil and ink is clear and gives off opposing themes surrounding the "good" and "bad."

“Even the titles ‘Ripped Apart’ and ‘Inner Struggles Fought on Paper’ make these two sides pretty apparent. The fact that Filan chooses to use two different media, ink and paint vs graphite, really solidifies this separation," Dai commented.

Behind the pencil and ink strokes laden with personal memories and emotions, Filan also expressed an active resolve to bring the potential identities of attackers and rapists to light.

"Parents always say don't follow strangers, but they do not want to talk about the danger from family members or friends of family," Filan said.

Thus Filan's artwork is not merely a depiction of her past. It has become a form of empowering self discovery in which she herself has become a creator. Her art pieces convey her own personal development in which she overcame traumatic sexual imagery and adopted a new role as a protector. In her more recent paintings, Filan's self projection into her work can be seen as a barrier between her daughter and the attacker.

The exhibit itself demonstrates a beautiful manifestation of internal emotional conflict on paper through ink and pencil.

"Even though it's abstract and there's no form and there's no face, it is my self portrait," Filan said. "It's what I've been through. And it is my story."

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