Yozmit the DogStar
Understand oneness, connection, equality, compassion, peace and harmony on earth
Understand oneness, connection, equality, compassion, peace and harmony on earth
Words: Young Tseng Wong @youngtseng.work & Jiselle Liu @jiselle03
Photographer: Ted Sun @tedsun77
Photo Assist: Sebastian Joseph @josephsebastia_photo
Stylist: Yozmit @yozmit Drew Bird @bird.drew
Style Assist: James Goldstone @clothingbyjames
Makeup: Jennifer Corona @jennifercorona
Hair: Fredy Arboleda @fredyarboleda
Set Design: Taylor Almodovar & Justin Gardner @greenhousecreative_
Post Production: Crystal Retouch @crystal_retouch
Location: Fat Eye Studios @fateyestudios
My life is about Transformation.
I am Yozmit the DogStar, a transgender singer-songwriter, performance artist, costume designer, and stylist.
I have had many deaths of consciousness in my life. Each time it has been like waking up from a nap filled with intense, colorful, lucid dreams and feeling the ripples of that experience for the rest of the day. I have gone through a major change almost every ten years, including a major and mysterious childhood illness, changing my country of residence in my teens, my career multiple times and, finally, from boy to girl.
When I was 7 years old I became seriously and dangerously ill. Nobody knew what it was. My parents thought I might die. I was their only son. My family had had only one male child in each generation since my great-grandfather’s time so there was also intense social pressure in addition to their own worry. If I died the family name would end with my death. I only survived after my mother and grandmother hired a local shaman to perform a ritual that included sacrificing a live hen. Shortly after my recovery, I put on my first female dress - one of my sister’s. In that dress I walked around the neighborhood with my girl friends. I was scared to death thinking, “What if my mom finds me like this? - She will be very upset!” On the other hand, I felt liberated, like a butterfly out of its cocoon. It was so joyful and exciting to be walking outside in that dress!
When I was 19 my whole family emigrated, moving from Seoul to Los Angeles. For my parents it was an economic and education-based decision made for the sake of their children. But out of all three children I was the most desperate to influence my parents to make this decision. I had learned from a college class I attended that my gender identity was considered a mental illness in Korea, a condition to be treated at a mental institution at the time. I was very relieved when they finally made the decision to move. Upon my arrival in the US I started my education in fashion design, working in the industry after graduation. This is when I started dressing as a female in public although I was able to keep it secret from my family.
At 27 years of age I felt burned out by the business side of the fashion industry. I lost my inspiration to continue. I was more interested in wearing and showcasing my own creations than in designing for other people. Near the end of my fashion career in LA I started to style for Korean pop artists. They influenced me to move back to Korea to start a new career as a pop singer. I felt that if they can do it I could do it too and do it even better. I was signed by a Korean music label in Seoul in 1997.
My voice as an artist comes from my mother.
She wanted to be a singer when she was in high school but, in conservative 1950s Korea, being a female singer was tantamount to being a prostitute. Nevertheless she secretly sang after school at a jazz club on the American army base near her home. When her brother found out she was stopped publicly and violently. Her actions were considered a shame to the family name. Shortly after this incident she married my father and became a housewife. A few years later, I was born. Her traumatic memories continued in my blood through my own journey when I went back to Korea to try to become a pop singer. The first thing my music label told me was not to reveal my gender identity. Their intention was to package me into an easy selling product and to identify myself as any other gender was forbidden. It was a culture that placed a lot of shame on transgender people and feminine male in general.
The duality of my gender has been a constant source of suffering, confusion, and impediment to finding my place in the world. On a personal level, it is painful not to be able to say who I love or who I am to my own parents. Socially, I endure the subtle negative reactions that all openly non-binary people face every day. Nevertheless, this pain has sublimated into the material for my art. I believe that there is immense power to be found beyond the dualistic thinking mind, tapping into the unknown mysteries of Self. To me this process is a healing one. The performance work that I do restores the balance between The Sacred Feminine and The Sacred Masculine within myself. It is an attempt to elevate collective consciousness by transcending the concept of gender and identity through promoting my visibility and message to all channels. Sexual energy is the most primal creative energy. It can be constructive if channeled in the right direction, but if not it can lead to destruction. We see this destruction in the world around us now. I truly believe embracing the duality of gender is the gateway that will allow all of us to understand oneness, connection, equality, compassion, peace and harmony on earth.
During my year of training to become a pop star in Seoul there was not much progress in cutting an album. My conflicts with producers and production companies over artistic direction and my gender identity became serious and then violent. I was bullied and physically abused by my music producer for wanting to be myself. I had to come back to LA. In spite of this I realized I still wanted to be a performer and that I had to carry on with my music. I went back to work in the fashion industry to make a living. It was very difficult but this time I had a greater sense of purpose. I worked full-time by day and at night I spent my time producing music and taking various performing arts classes. One of my close friends suggested that I needed a teacher if I was serious about training. This is when all my teachers came into my life. It even led me to Paris to study with one of my masters. In the City of Light I finally realized that I wanted to be an artist in my own right.
I spent the next 10 years apprenticing and performing with my masters in various disciplines - Avant-Garde Performance-Theater with Rachel Rosenthal, Corporeal Mime with Thomas Leabhart, and traditional Korean music. Rachel Rosenthal was my creative mother figure who taught me to follow the Golden Ball of creation using her DbD/Doing by Doing Experience. Her method of creation was very feminine and serendipitous in nature. Improvising from one impulse, The Golden Ball, you take action then another follow-up action. Every result takes you to another action, action after action until you arrive at your final creation. The entire story only becomes visible at the end of the journey. In contrast, Thomas Leabhart, my master in Etienne Decroux's Corporeal Mime, was my paternal influence in theater which provided the Apollonian discipline to my Dionysian soul. The backbone to these disciplines, and my musical heritage, was traditional Korean opera, pansori, and gayageum, which I began practicing a few years before, in 2003. Similar to blues music, the primary emotions of pansori are “sorrow” and “spleen”. We call this in Korean, Haan. The purpose of practicing this extreme voice technique is to bring out the primal guttural sound to untangle and release the Haan of a singer. I never thought I would study and become a practitioner of traditional Korean music, especially after my experience in Seoul in 1997. I did not want to have anything to do with Korea after that experience. I wanted to lose my identity completely, to be reborn as an American. I was so angry at myself, my family, and my culture. But in time I came to the realization that there are many layers, many heavy strings attached, tangled with my blood, my Korean heritage, and my Karmic artistic soul. To transform myself I must continually transform my afflictions - my Haan.
Through the art disciplines, through therapy, meditation, and even psychedelic drugs, I did most of my self-work in these years. All this work helped me to finally come out to my family. But my father said I should kill myself because he thought people of my gender were lower than animals. This was mentally and physically the most difficult time in my adult life. I felt like I was standing all alone in the universe.
After a decade of training and experience, I moved to New York when I was 36 to begin a new career as an avant-garde vaudeville artist at The Box, alternative-performance nightclub. I started as a hostess, the lowest position there and worked up the ladder to headliner. Soon I began performing for the company internationally, traveling the world with my one-person show. I remember performing for Madonna one night. It felt strange and confusing because usually I was the one watching her perform far away on her concert stage. Another highlight of this period was performing in Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present at MoMA. New York was a tough mother. I learned a great deal about what it is to survive as an artist - how to be persistent and resilient.
In 2010, I began to do my performance piece WALK. WALK was developed during the time of recession in NYC when I lost a lot of my performance work. One morning, out of helplessness and frustration, I decided to walk the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn where I lived, wearing one of my retired nightclub costumes. I had no agenda, no plan - just walk and see what happens. After this I began to walk in Times Square, Union Square, any place my walk took me. WALK combined my prayer meditation and visual performance art practices, a silent, durational, meditative slow walk in monochromatic sculptural full-body costume in public spaces. To walk slowly is to slow down time, to go completely internal, especially in a world where people move and think too fast. In WALK I wear monochromatic costumes to reflect how society is a parallel monochrome; everyone doing and following similar interests in a superficial world. Through masking the physical appearance of self and visage, I become a totem for myself and the people around me to awaken the spirit of the space for that moment. Doing this I become part of the void, transcending myself, and becoming the audience to the performance of life around me. Over the years I have done a total of 19 WALK performances all over the world: in New York, London, Berlin, Sofia, Chuncheon, Los Angeles, Miami, Joshua Tree and many more places. Before each WALK, I always hold a question towards my conflict or struggle at that moment of my life. In the beginning, one question that frequently came to me was my direction as an artist. In this way, after 15 years as a multidisciplinary performance artist, I realized that I wanted to make my voice and my own original music the main driving force of my performance work.
This realization brought the wind of change again. At 46 I came back full circle to Los Angeles. I wanted to put all the tools and experiences gathered from my journeys into my own project. I decided to create art that will help restore the balance of feminine and masculine within myself. I believe this can evoke the bigger shift that is needed in the external world. I began to curate a Music/Fashion/Performance Art campaign called *DoYou* and gave myself the name Yozmit which means, "myth about one’s self.” Through ritualistic performance art, Yozmit combines theater, dance, pop culture, fashion, gender identity, mythology, and shamanistic ritual onto a single canvas. Using the content and form of the pop star Yozmit becomes the DogStar, the goddess archetype who is my higher channel using my male form but embodying both The Sacred Feminine and The Sacred Masculine. DogStar is trans-formation, evolution, and new possibility. Inspired by the myth of Sirius, the core value of DogStar is the balance between self-reliant creation and service for the community. In the persona of Yozmit I present the iconography of DogStar in the context of my awareness-based performance art: *DoYou*. I share the creation process of DogStar to evoke *DoYou* in others; a process of becoming fully self-realized and actualizing self-identity. *DoYou* is my artistic mantra to shift power from external conformity to internal realization. Since its birth in 2014 *DoYou* has gathered momentum and found some success but it is still a solitary journey of creation, production, and promotion for me.
In the meantime I have reached the halfway landmark of my life. In May 2020 I turned 50. In numerology, 5 is the number that expresses personal freedom and change. I released my first full album, Sun Moon Door, without any middlemen involved, closing the negative energy space from Korea almost two decades ago. The DogStar came to me, My Golden Ball of inspiration. I feel that I am finally home, as if my life has just begun, springing up from new ground where I am most natural and powerful at the same time. All this time I have tried so hard to be who I am and where I am right now. It's as if I was some kind of fighter trying to slay a monstrous dragon breathing out fire at me at all times. Now I have gained enough wisdom to put a leash on this dragon and make it my companion, a new vehicle to ride to the place I need to go next. Through the past 20 years of my performing career I have broken boundaries about where my presence and art belong. I performed everywhere my heart and art went. I feel that art has to breathe through every heartbeat of humanity. As it says in Bread and Puppet Theater’s Why Cheap Art Manifesto,
“ART IS FOOD . You can’t EAT it BUT it FEEDS you.”
I have performed on the streets, in churches and temples, city facilities, universities, science conferences, outside pizza parlors, in museums, and in nightclubs. I have performed for children, senior citizens, British royals, and prison inmates. I have performed for one person and for 40,000 people gathered in one stadium. The Hundredth Monkey Effect is an idea about how group behavior may change when individuals are influenced to change their behaviors or opinions based on what they have seen others do. Until my message of *DoYou* reaches the tipping point of the Hundredth Monkey Effect I will continue to sing, dance, and tell stories about Yozmit the DogStar.
In the lyrics of my first single DOGSTAR, 2019, I wrote, “Sunrise in the night." I have learned deeply from my own artistic process that in order to fully tap into my highest potential as an evolved human or a spiritual seeker, I must undergo hardship, pain, exploitation, injustice, and mental and physical abuse from internal and external oppressive forces. Metamorphosis begins when my old self is dissolved, often painfully, away. The ultimate destination is to rise above all these negative situations, conditions, and emotions to complete the full circle of transformation.
My goal is to embrace the highest teachings to bring together the light and dark, yin and yang of my incomprehensible universe.