A gift of "hope" for Obama


SEOUL — Using voice waves from Barack Obama’s inauguration speech as inspiration, a South Korean businessman and self-taught artist has created gifts of "hope" to congratulate the president on his first 100 days in the Oval Office.

"I’d like to see him become living evidence of hope," said artist Lee Kwan Young, referring to the word that became the tagline of Obama's campaign. On display were a tie pin and cuff links that Lee made for Obama and a pendant and brooch he designed for the first lady, all encased in a box labeled “Hope by Obama.” (Click here for GlobalPost reports on how Obama's first 100 days played out around the world.)

Lee's experimentation with sound waves began in 2006. “Each person has a different sound wave, which is why voices all have an identity,” Lee explained.

Because each wave is like a fingerprint, Lee had the idea to use waves as expressions of individuality, and he secured a patent related to voice wave art. So far, he has exhibited his artwork of sound waves of the word "love," and has created small metal pieces using voice waves of famous figures such as Martin Luther King.

As part of the generation that experienced firsthand the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, Lee takes great interest in U.S. politics: He believes what happens in the U.S. inevitably influences the rest of the world.

To Lee, Obama seems like someone who genuinely cares about good governance. Initially, Lee hoped to bolster Obama'a campaign by printing T-shirts. “But it was kind of obvious that he was going to win without my help anyway, so I gave that idea up,” Lee said with a burst of laughter.

Then when Obama won the presidency, Lee felt it was important that the president stay true to his words of hope and inspiration, especially given the current economic downturn.

Hence, he began his four-month project of "hope" — he chose the word after Obama used it numerous times in his inauguration speech. Obama's voice waves, Lee said, are far better-looking than those of other people.

“His words have power and energy in them, unlike some other people who just kind of mumble on like Bush,” Lee said. As a strong opponent of the war on Iraq, the artist said he once looked at former president George W. Bush’s voice wave of the word "peace," and to his surprise found it was thin as a twig and carried no weight.

In Lee's hands, Obama’s words make beautiful art. With the help of his friends and acquaintances, Lee hopes to send his gifts to the White House through the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

Aside from the jewelry, he is also planning to send “hope trees,” which are prints of two of the president’s voice waves placed vertically. One is painted blue and the other red to symbolize peace and cooperation between the Democratic and Republican parties.

All this work has been time-consuming and costly. As a manager at one of Korea’s largest companies, Lee — who majored in business administration — has to make his artwork in his spare time. The 41-year-old broke into his retirement savings to bring his project to life, a fact he only recently revealed to his wife.

“I think the money is worth it,” Lee’s wife Chough Sungaie said, “I mean it’s not like he was out drinking with that money or anything.” As an art major, Chough is the person Lee usually consults about his work.

“To be honest, I did get kind of jealous at first,” she said. “I was thinking, I’m the one who studied art, why is it that he gets to hold exhibitions and all?” But Chough believes that her husband's good heart is what makes his projects possible.

Lee said that his next project will be about “peace,” and that he would like to hold an exhibit at the United Nations this year.

But back to Obama. Asked how he thinks the leader has done so far, Lee turned serious. “I know it’s not easy, but I think he’s trying his best with a good heart,” he said, “I just want him to remember that people all over the world are hoping he does a good job.”

Read more about the beginning of Obama's presidency:

Hitting the 'reset' button

Reflections on the big, sick dog

Europe's love affair with Obama