Anthropomorphism, or the practice of ascribing human characteristics to animals, can be used to question or reaffirm human identity. By showing what animals lack and humans possess, we can emphasize our superiority as a species or conversely, show our inner beast.
An exercise related to this is the creation of entities that are neither human nor animal – used for example by ancient civilizations to visualise their gods. In our society it has moved away from the religious connotation. Hybrids are popularized in books, movies and the visual arts and can function as highly powerful tools of cultural commentary. They can also be seen as reflections of the human psyche.
The South Korean Suengyea Park uses visuals of animals and her own self-portrait to assemble new animal-like creatures. Her intention is to explore her inner monster, and to express this visually using, sometimes iconic imagery.
Park’s version of Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound (Hell Hound, (2011)), is a modern adaptation of one of the most ancient mythological creatures. Humanizing the dog’s fierce temper Park worked with his facial expressions – meaning that in the end result the aggression is not shown through his teeth but found in his eyes. The work is much less disturbing however than her earlier Tame (2010), where the dog’s characteristics are interpreted in a much more abstract and violent way.
A more subtle and slightly more surrealist work is Fish (2010) in which a man holding a fish amalgamates with the animal, creating an impossible creature breathing sadness and loneliness. The fish is out of the water and unable to move suggesting helplessness and a sense of being lost.
Stunning and surprising is Park’s technique – most works are hand drawn and executed with acrylic and pen on paper, showing great drawing skills as well as a wild imagination. Her young, almost child-like features give his drawings and paintings an elfish feel. The works are dark with a hint of irony and are an excellent example of psychological hybridization, using the animal’s qualities to embellish human emotion.