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Photo by Che Sehyun

How a Seattle artist found his future by examining his past

Like so many children of immigrants, Che Sehyun was raised to pursue the traditional American dream: college and a professional career.

“That was, to me, to be a doctor,” he says.

Things didn’t quite work out that way.

Instead of a career in medicine, Che became an award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He travels throughout Asia, documenting the people he meets and spiritual sites he visits. He says his art is inspired by an ongoing quest to connect with his Korean heritage.

“I guess I identified as Asian,” he says. “But I never identified as Korean. And I didn’t really know any Asian men.”

Che took some history classes at the University of Washington, and the more he learned about his culture, the more he gravitated toward outlets where he could try to express what he was learning and feeling. He taught himself to play guitar and started to compose some songs. He got a camera and learned how to edit video.

Eventually, Che abandoned his plans to be a doctor; he moved to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to work with youth. He still teaches and coaches sports to support himself, his girlfriend and their young family, but he envisions a time when he can pursue art full-time.

That may come sooner than he anticipated. This year Che won a prestigious $25,000 Neddy Award, one of the largest individual artist prizes in the state. He sees it as acknowledgment that he’s on the right path to realizing his own American Dream.

“I see art as a way to really just cultivate yourself. This is just what I’m supposed to do.”

Che Sehyun performs his first solo show this Sunday at West of Lenin in Seattle, Back to the Culture, a Corean-American tale.

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