American Sign Language (ASL) sound artist Christine Sun Kim became the first deaf Asian American to sign the national anthem at the Super Bowl alongside singer Demi Lovato.
The 39-year-old Berlin-based American artist was picked by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
, the oldest civil rights organization in America founded in 1880, as a representative of the signing community at the Super Bowl.
“Every year before the Super Bowl, the NAD looks for a Deaf person who represents the signing community,”
Kim told Artnet
. “They ask potential candidates to submit audition videos of their signing style to assess their expression level and to ensure that their delivery is well.”
“When Alexis Kashar, a Deaf civil rights attorney, and Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the NAD, asked me to send them a video, I took a stab at translating it [the National Anthem] into American Sign Language, which has an entirely different syntax and grammar compared to English,” the artist, who was stunned after learning she got the part, added. “I guess I was expressive enough for the gig!”
Kim was born to Korean parents in 1980 in Orange County, California. She attended University High School in Irvine and graduated with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) College of Applied Science and Technology in 2002, according to her alumni profile
Kim expressed that signing the national anthem felt surreal to her.
“My art has always been political—mainly because my identity and language are both politically charged to begin with,” she said.
“Being the first Deaf Asian American to sign the anthem is going to be surreal!” Kim added. “It makes me think of watching Margaret Cho’s historic ‘All-American Girl’ television series as a teen. That just completely blew my mind.”
Like her other performance, Kim admitted that there were initial concerns with the opportunity.
“There are always political considerations in each performance, and I did have initial concerns with the Super Bowl opportunity,” Kim said. “But ultimately, the idea of bringing ASL visibility to millions of people won the argument. I will also release a personal statement in the near future explaining why I chose to perform.”
In 2013, Kim was selected for the 2013 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) show “Soundings,” the museum’s first exhibition dedicated to sound art. She later became known for her work that demonstrates the possibilities of sound as an artistic medium, the New York Times
reported. Kim also held a TED Talk in 2015 about the similarities between music and sign language.
Kim was previously featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial for her text paintings that chart the degrees of “Deaf Rage” she experienced while navigating through airports, museums and other establishments.
“With the NFL’s massive platform, we can actually bring sign language to millions of homes,” Kim said. “Representation matters a great deal to me, and I hope that seeing a Deaf person signing the anthem will bring attention to various issues that plague our community: language-deprived deaf babies, police brutality towards disabled people, a lack of mental health services, and many others.”
However, Kim explained that the biggest reason why she decided to perform at the Super Bowl was that she is “so damn patriotic as a Deaf person.”
“Compared to other countries, America has it good—although not perfect—when it comes to disability laws,” she said.
“When I was younger, I was able to get an education with interpreters, watch TV shows and movies with captions, and make phone calls with online interpreters for the entirety of my life,” Kim continued. “I want to represent that very aspect of privilege while signing the anthem.”