Nohl fellows explore their transracial adoption stories through art

January 4, 2017

Buy Photo Growing up, Brooke Thiele spurned her mother's attempts to connect her with Korean culture, like cooking bulgogi beef or buying her a traditional Hanbok dress. She just wanted to fit in. Thiele's doll had black hair, but she wanted the same Raggedy Ann doll with red locks that everyone else had. She was the only person of Asian descent in her school in Pulaski until sophomore year. In childhood photos, her black hair stands out among her three blond brothers. Born in Daegu, South Korea, Thiele was adopted by a white Green Bay family when she was 9 months old. Her brothers are biological children of her parents. Thiele remembers watching eggs hatch with her brothers at home. “You know, that was you,” her brothers would tease. They would joke that Thiele was shipped from Korea as an egg in a box full of snakes and spiders. Brooke Thiele and her brothers -- Brad, Matt and Jason -- at the family's home in Green Bay. Thiele was transracially adopted as an infant and is exploring that experience through her art. (Photo: Submitted photo) But for the last year and a half Thiele, 39, has been exploring her Korean heritage. She started growing her own radishes and making kimchi. She's learning Korean by watching videos on YouTube. She wants to study Pansori, a traditional Korean form of musical storytelling. Earlier this year, Thiele was awarded a prestigious Mary L. Nohl Fellowship in the emerging artist category. She is using the $10,000 grant to work on a project exploring her transracial adoption. Surprisingly, another one of this year's Nohl fellows, Rose Curley, is working on a graphic memoir about being transracially adopted and growing up in Milwaukee. Thiele and Curley are part of a boom in identity-based art, work in which the creator's identity is central. Polly Morris, who administers the Nohl fellowship program, said the vast majority of applications this year were from people who address identity pretty overtly. "I remember even three or four years ago jurors saying, 'Oh identity work is so '90s,' " Morris said. "Now, you can see it's come back into the realm of acceptable." Curley and Thiele were selected for two of this year's five Nohl fellowships by out-of-state jurors independently, based on the quality of their work. The process was far along when jurors realized the women were addressing a similar topic. However, their...

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