Alumna transforms pain from spinal injury into works of art

Contact: Mark Schwerin
Photo of piece of art by Inja Cho.

Art by Inja Cho on display through Dec. 21.

KALAMAZOO—Pain caused by an irreversible spinal cord injury is the springboard for works of art on display through Friday, Dec. 21, at Western Michigan University.

The exhibit, "Unbearable Sweetness of Being" by South Korean native Inja Cho, can be viewed in the second floor gallery of the College of Health and Human Services building. The show is part of her [COLD+HOT] SERIES, which explores her ongoing struggle with neuropathic pain on the entire left side of her body.

Cho moved to Michigan from South Korea to attend school in 1990 and lived in Ann Arbor, Mich., working as a teacher and graphic artist. She later studied fine art and painting at WMU and at the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy, through a WMU study abroad program.

In 2005, Cho required emergency neurosurgery that left her with an irreversible spinal cord injury and severe myelopathy and neuropathic pain. A goal of her artwork is to find a true, meaningful way of depicting the sensations she feels daily, both emotional and physical. Sometimes she is standing in the burning embers of a fire and other times she is sitting on a block of ice. Often it's a combination of both.

"As a person with high spirit and very positive views about life, I choose to tolerate the pain as a blessing—a blessing I have been given abundantly," she says. "It is a spontaneous transformation process of using unpleasant feelings to create something magnificent and beautiful."

Personal art

Cho's work is typically very personal in nature. Obsessed with composition, texture, graphics and pattern, her favorite media include oil, ink, acrylic, gouache, watercolor and many experimental mixed media materials.

Cho has been in her studio in downtown Kalamazoo since 2008. Her art is in corporate and private collections including WMU's Office of the President, Reed Photography Studio, Crescendo Music Academy, Hi-Tech Dental Laboratories Inc. and Liberty Steel Co. Her work can also be found in overseas collections.

"Unbearable Sweetness of Being" can be viewed from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

For more information, contact Gay Walker at (269) 387-3839 or