A few weeks ago, the Gwangju Biennale (광주비엔날레) censored Hong Seong-dam’s (홍성담) painting Sewol Owol. Many news sources focused on one small part of the painting. With the support of my colleague, Hanna Yoo, I explain and analyze the entire painting in an article for Dilettante Army. See excerpts below and visit Dilettante Army for the full story.
“Censorship and government control is still a major thread at the Biennale, where a painting concerning these South Korean leaders has caused significant upheaval. “Restricting Eyes”: Lee Yong-woo on Gwangju Biennale Censorship by Julie Baumgardner explains why Lee Yong-woo, its cofounder and president, resigned his position—censorship of artist Hong Seong-dam’s paintingSewol Owol. Intended to be part of a commemorative exhibition at the Gwangju Museum of Art (GMA) celebrating the Biennale’s 20th anniversary, the painting is a raw tribute to the tragic sinking of the Korean ferry last spring which killed nearly 300 people, mostly high school students; it is an artwork created in the true spirit of the Gwangju Uprising. When presented to the GMA officials mere hours before the opening on August 8, the officials called a meeting and decided to postpone any decisions until the middle of September. At that point Hong withdrew the painting. In addition, at a press conference Lee stated, “I don’t think it is taboo to satirize a country’s president…Freedom of artistic expression should not be restricted by the government just because they have the exhibition budget under their control” Lee alludes that the government has more say in the Biennale than the public may realize.
Many online sources written in English, including the Art in America article mentioned above as well as the New York Times, the Economist, and The Korean Herald, addressed the censorship. Most of the visual representations of the mural are just a detail that focuses on President Park Geun Hye (such as the detail used by Art in America). Though the reason for censorship, this image is only a fraction of the entire artwork. With the flurry surrounding the censorship, the entire artwork requires viewing and analysis. After the controversy arose, the artist posted an image of the entire painting on his website revealing a vast, dramatic, and visceral scene. If you can read Korean, the artist explains the painting in detail here.”
“Norko Realism” by Travis Jeppesen for Art in America gives an overview of the contemporary art world in North Korea. Jeppesen explains the style, “This is a socialist, yet also ultranationalist, “realism” that belongs strictly to the Korean people north of the 38th parallel, and cannot be understood apart from their ideology-infused quotidian life, which has existed for a relatively brief span of time (since the DPRK’s founding in 1948).” He also explains the expectations and boundaries that established for the art community in the DRPK (Art in America).
“Is Yellow Fever an Expression of Pedophilic Tendencies?” The main question of the article asks if “Yellow Fever, is it a multicultural symbol or a pedophilic fetish?” Overall, I think there needs to be more research to support the arguments in the article but this part stood out to me: “The sexualisation of Asian women and the equivalent desexualisation of Asian men is [also] reflected in the American popular culture […]” (Love Love China).
“Defining Racism in Korea” was sparked by controversy regarding racism and the Ebola outbreak; it gives a brief introduction of the roots of racism in Korea. Racism is a complicated topic in most countries and cultures, “Korean racism, however, must be understood differently from its Western cousin, experts say. It is a complex product of the country’s colonial history, postwar American influence and military presence, rapid economic development as well as patriotism that takes a special pride in its “ethnic homogeneity,” according to professor Kim Hyun-mee from Yonsei University” (Korean Herald).
On Friday I shared a collection of links as a quick way to get to know what is going on at the Gwangju Biennale this year.
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Not exactly something to read but very important, North Korean exiles will be speaking at a conference next week. “This is the first time that prominent North Korean exiles will speak publicly in a conference about the functioning of this totalitarian state. Some of them have only recently fled North Korea. All of the speakers held important positions in the regime as high-ranking officials, politicians or party cadres.”
Last week Art in America was the first Western source to reveal first hand information about the censorship of Hong Seong-dam’s Sewol Owol and subsequent resignation of the current president and cofounder of the Gwangju Biennale, Lee Yong-woo. The satirical painting includes criticism of the current president, Park Guen Hye and references the Korean ferry that sank last spring tragically taking many lives. The Korean Herald also covered the topic quoting Mr. Lee saying “‘From an art critic’s point of view, the painting should be on exhibit. I don’t think it is taboo to satirize a country’s president,” said Lee. “Freedom of artistic expression should not be restricted by the government just because they have the exhibition budget under their control.”‘
Among the controversy, some sources were able to shift focus back to the artwork. Art Radar Asia reviewed eight artworks from the Biennale including Minouk Lim’s Fire Cliff 3. I wrote about Lim’s Fire Cliffseries when she came to Chicago in 2013. The Economist also touched on some of the artwork and the head curator, Jessica Morgan. Morgan has continued to progress; Art in America just announced that the curator will be the new director of the Dia Art Foundation.
I wrote an article for Art Radar Asia about the top resources for contemporary South Korean art:
“The digital sphere offers a relatively limited number of resources on contemporary South Korean art in English, especially compared to Korea’s East Asian neighbours. Although online resources for English-speaking art professionals are becoming more abundant, a need still exists for varied and critical debate among the online art community.
To help you make the most of South Korea’s exciting art scene, here are the best online resources that feature contemporary Korean art. Ranging from online archives to critical reviews, as a collection these virtual spaces allow anyone with internet access to delve into the rich contemporary art scene flowing out of the Korea peninsula.”
Virtual gender swap via DesignBoom. This is an interesting concept but I don’t see why it has to be specific to gender. Size? Race? Health? Also, gender is not necessarily a binary thing as it seems to be presented here.
Speaking of gender, Facebook has some interesting news.
People are making the internet a better place! (Don’t tell my student’s I endorsed something Wikipedia related! 😉 )