* This post is written by Elizabeth Shim, one of the Korean Cultural Service in New York’s Cultural Reporters.
In the bustling center of Times Square, a young Korean woman is the hub of a gathering crowd. Cameramen clamor for coveted space. Tourists elbow each other just for a peek.
The center of the intrigue is neither the latest K-pop diva nor a paparazzi-tormented celebrity. She doesn’t go by BoA, Kim Yu-na, or Lee Hyori. She has yet to win an award or a gold medal for her extraordinary performances. However, in her own right, 39-year-old Korean-American Maria Yoon is a force to be reckoned with. On Sunday May 22, a few days ahead of her 40th birthday, Yoon ‘married’ for the 50th and final time in a mock wedding ceremony that she has performed in every state since 2001.
“I was anticipating my parents to be here!” she exclaimed, as she turned her head left and right, hoping to catch a glimpse of their familiar faces. Yoon, a New York-based performance artist, began her project when her traditional Korean parents urged her to find a marriage partner not long after her 30th birthday.
Yoon immigrated to the United States at the age of seven, and was accustomed to straddling both cultures, but her parent’s request prompted an unusual idea. The resultant performance project, Maria the Korean Bride, became her socially charged — albeit humorous — expression of Korean perceptions of marriage, women, and filial duty.
Her performance art piece has taken her from coast to coast, and in every location, Yoon has always been betrothed in colorful Korean wedding attire, or hanbok, a symbolic marker of her cultural identity. In outstanding circumstances in weddings past, she has married another woman, a cow, and even a man’s shirt.
For her final but most significant wedding, Yoon randomly selected her final groom from a lottery, where each potential suitor paid $5 apiece to enter the draw. The selected bridegroom cheerfully partook in Yoon’s wedding parody, which was officiated by Jimmy McMillan, a 2012 presidential candidate of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party.
As the event drew to a close, McMillan quipped, “I hope another state does not become part of the Union, because Maria will have to get married again.”
For more information about Maria Yoon, please see her proprietary website: http://www.mariathekoreanbride.com/