Performance artist Diana Oh breaks boundaries within the family in ‘Oh Family Project’

Performance artist Diana Oh breaks boundaries within the family in ‘Oh Family Project’
via ALL ARTS
Iris Jung
April 7, 2023
Musician Diana Oh (they/them) gets intimate in their recently recorded performance, the “Oh Family Concert.”
Known for their genre-defying work celebrating queer, trans and non-binary people, Diana is an LGBTQ+ influencer, Van Lier Fellow in Acting, Sundance Institute Fellow and member of the indie-rock band The U.S. Open.
In the “Oh Family Concert,” Diana dives into their history and legacy as a Korean American through original music and interviews. In collaboration with their mother, who immigrated to the U.S. after the Korean War, Diana explores seven decades of their family, dedicating the concert in honor of their parents. 
Diana sat down with NextShark to discuss their experiences surrounding identity, song inspirations and their experience filming the personal “Oh Family Concert.”
When beginning their digital piece, which was commissioned by the Public Theater, Diana shared that the idea of interviewing elders in their community came to them at an unexpected moment.
“I remember brushing my teeth and then getting this idea of getting to meet elders, and specifically elders of marginalized experience and identity, because I am a child of immigrants,” they share. 

I felt really connected to that specific generation of people who have moved to this country and folks of that generation of my parents’ age. So meeting folks of that generation and then talking with them and learning about their lives and then writing them songs as a gift.

As a jumping-off point, Diana decided to begin the project with their mother. 

I begged my mom to help. I know that she’s really shy about sharing her story and also showing up on camera and all the things … [But] she agreed to help out and it just turned out to be this amazing process of interviewing my mom for the gift project. And then I got to write her this song about her and for her.

Diving into intimate conversations, some of which were more comfortable than others, Diana confesses the project changed the relationship dynamic between them and their mother, June. 

I think going through this process, she got to see that her story really matters. That it wasn’t just me being weird. It wasn’t just me being annoying. It wasn’t just me being nosy and prodding and being a stalker. It’s like other people also really adore her and feel for her and feel for her generation and feel for immigrants from South Korea who came over here. 

Confronting the common “emotional stagnation” between immigrant parents and their children, the project became a way for Diana and their mother to “make art together” and “force communication.”
“So I created this,” Diana explains, referring to their project. “The deadlines to talk, the space to talk, the time to talk, the container to talk.” 
via All Arts
Regardless, Diana — like many other children of immigrants — often struggles with finding the balance between their Korean and American identities.

That is what being a Korean American is. I think that’s the difference between being Korean American and being American American is you’re combining all the swirls that are you and all the cultures that are you and trying to make sense of it. I do feel like I have a lot of questions and I do feel like I want more. And I do feel like I’m jumping out of my skin, literally. And it can be scary. You can feel really alone if you don’t find other people who are also on the same search.

Diana explains finding other artists who are “on the same search” is a comfort and an opportunity for them to not only find the freedom to ask questions but also to express themselves using music. 

I think music is one of the things that I do. And it’s something that really, really matters to me a lot. And the singing, the voice, like my father used to be a singer so I think that came from him. And music was something we always shared together … [I have an] intuitive process of doing things, like a simple art-making process in my life when things are so things can get so cerebral and so complicated. 

Diana shares that their parents, and specifically their mother, inspired the lyrics of “I’m Holding on Too Much,” their personal favorite from the three songs performed in the concert.
“I was always watching my parents hold on too much as I was growing up,” Diana discloses. “My mom, to this day, holds on to so much at all times. It’s like surviving no matter what. That’s the immigrant mentality of working five times harder. Outwork everybody.”
via All Arts
But reflecting on these moments, Diana confesses that all they want is to see their mom relax. 
“I just want to see her relax. That’s all we’ve ever wanted for her, you know?”
Looking back on the “Oh Family Project,” Diana defines their experience as “lucky.”

You know, I feel like somebody it feels so magical to be chosen. What a fortunate experience. And it’s, you know, that’s all an artist could ever want is to be … Every single word is gonna be so diminishing of, like, what this year got to be.

The “Oh Family Concert” is available to stream free on the All Arts app or at AllArts.org/ArtistinResidence.
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