At a secret location in Koreatown on July 12, Los Angeles native, multimedia artist and millionaire David Choe opened his invite-only art exhibit, “The Choe Show.” The event — which closes on Saturday, Aug. 5 — is free but involves an extensive online application process and, even with the build-up and hype, still managed to surpass the expectations of the participants I spoke with afterward.

Personally, I’m still processing what I saw and felt, but I can share that many images and feelings stemming from my childhood came up, including unresolved grief from my father’s tragic death when I was very young and my own family’s inability to communicate or care for me afterward. By surrendering, looking beyond my own walls and being open to what I saw and heard from Choe at “The Choe Show,” I tapped into areas of my life that are not completely healed and I was reminded to accept that it’s OK. In a time when it seems increasingly difficult for people to be emotionally honest and available to others, for any number of reasons, the art event provided that space for everyone, including Choe, who has spoken publicly about his own trouble with sex and gambling addictions in the past.

I went into “The Choe Show” with total strangers — who had also been instructed not to eat, masturbate, watch porn, drink or do drugs for 12 hours before the show — but we emerged much closer and have connected on social media and via email. We shared an intimate experience, and being respectful of David Choe, the confidentiality agreement attendees were required to sign, and spoiler alerts for others who will be attending between now and Saturday (the application process is closed, unfortunately), here are some of the reflections participants felt compelled to share.

Annie Adjchavanich, commercial real estate agent and founder of Annie’s Nut Bar: “The experience has had my mind on overdrive, realizing that the time I have left is so fleeting. All of the choices I make matter more now than ever. Make better choices.”

Sean Wilson, labor attorney: “David's openness and honesty with us, his effort to express even the deepest pains trapped in the darkest recesses of his psyche, and his willingness to bare his soul to a bunch of perfect strangers — despite a millionaire/celebrity status that one would assume to keep him guarded and aloof — is what I think inspired me to let my guard down and ‘mask off,’ if only for a couple of hours.”

Nirvan Mullick, filmmaker (Caine’s Arcade) and founder of “I had a lot of things come up for me. From memories of being bullied as a child (I was always the smallest kid growing up, and had a weird-sounding name), to experiencing my father's death as if it were my own. I also felt a deep sense of love and forgiveness and thought about what I most wanted to accomplish before I died. Honestly, nearly every defining moment of my life came up during the experience. It was a deeply humbling and moving work of art.”

Blind Portrait, David Choe; Credit: Courtesy David Choe

Blind Portrait, David Choe; Credit: Courtesy David Choe

Misty Summers, silversmith/nanny/gallery assistant: “As someone who’s living paycheck to paycheck, has an absurd amount of student debt, doesn't have health insurance, is 31, can't seem to find a job but has a master's degree, the list could go on and on … I just couldn't stop thinking about the struggle. Life is such a fucking struggle and this struggle can come in so many different ways. David shares some of his deepest struggles, and I related to his pain and the ways you try to cover it up and make everything seem fine. Finding self-acceptance and happiness in it all.”

Joseph Fuentes, painter: “I thought a lot about the effort I've been putting into my art practice lately. … I realized I could be doing a lot more and that somewhere along the way I'd gotten discouraged. I've been in and out of mental health facilities as well over the past few years. I think I feel kind of broken and unworthy since those experiences. 'The Choe Show' reminded me that I'm still whole and complete regardless of what happened in the past.”

Conrad/Rick Alberto, founder of the “I was one of the very few that actually had David Choe show up outside my apartment complex to interview me in person. I realized that the art goes beyond just acrylic and canvases and that I have begun working on the art of storytelling. In a new world of fast technology and social media, we soon forget that actual human interaction is what is missing in our lives.

“As someone that has gone through mild depression as a lonely entrepreneur, David came to me like a dark angel to help uplift me. Since then, I have started paying it forward in telling people that I appreciate them and have even shared words that best describe each person in my life. In turn, that person would describe me in just a few words to let me know what I mean to them. I believe this is such an important thing to do as we sometimes just need to know why we exist in these relationships.”

Jeanette Sawyer, exhibition designer/co-founder of ethical, slow-design brand MAAARI: “A lot of insecurities that I have about myself and my own creative process kept coming to mind. It actually gave me hope as a creative that I can make it in the world. I’m in so much debt piled on top of debt because I’ve been chasing my artistic dreams, creating an entity that truly gives back to people who are less fortunate. After 'The Choe Show,' it made me realize that money helps but, ultimately, it doesn't bring you happiness. It’s the connections and meaningful relationships you meet along the way.”

Annie: “Within two hours, every member of my group had found me on Instagram. We are family. I had IG chats with three of the members until about 2:30 a.m. No one could sleep. It's like being in that exclusive club when you walk away from a plane crash.”

Jeanette: “When we were leaving the show we stood outside, down the block, and talked for 20 to 30 minutes about the experience. About how amazing it was and what it all meant. Eventually, we parted ways but not before we all started a group text chat so we could keep in contact. It was such an amazing experience to share with other amazing people who I may have not met otherwise.”

Sharks, David Choe; Credit: Courtesy David Choe

Sharks, David Choe; Credit: Courtesy David Choe

Sean: “I feel I surrendered some of my fear of social judgment and acceptance. This makes me feel more liberated and at home in my own skin.”

Joseph: “I felt really connected with the people in my group. I came to L.A. alone from Chicago, so it was nice to let my guard down and feel a sense of belonging.”

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