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Reconciling a tragic past through artA review of artist Park Soo Young’s April 3 Massacre exhibition on at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park until Feb. 26
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승인 2012.02.14  15:17:58
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▲ Artist Park Soo Young’s April 3 Massacre exhibition titled "Oreum -- Seome Salda" is on at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park until Feb. 26. Photo by Angela Kim

Seoul artist Park Soo Young believes that art can resolve the rift between the mainland and Jeju created by the Jeju April 3 Massacre (also referred to as “4.3”). This seven-year violent conflict, starting in 1948, between the US-backed South Korean army and Jeju rebels resulted in an estimated 30,000 deaths, mostly innocent Jeju citizens.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, starting at 3 p.m. at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park, the opening ceremony for “Oreum — Seome Salda” (“Volcanic Cone(s) — Living on an Island”), an exhibition of almost 30 abstract paintings and a few sculptures by Park on the subject of the Jeju Massacre was held.

“Due to a lack of communication, the people of Jeju and those from the mainland still have hatred towards each other [because of the Jeju Massacre],” Park said after the opening ceremony. “I wanted to provide a place for everyone to communicate, and I believe that painting is one way to easily communicate.”

▲ Photo by Angela Kim
▲ Photo by Angela Kim

Park, who is also a high school art teacher in Seoul, told The Weekly that she believes artists are the only ones who can resolve this issue.

“The massacre is very hard to explain through writing or any other means. Painting and the arts are the only ways to connect those from the mainland and those from Jeju.”

Her work, presented in one of the rooms of the 4.3 Peace Park near Jeju City, is filled with the image of oreum (volcanic cones), houses with and with out doors and windows, and flowers. She said her work depict the pain still felt on the island caused by the Jeju Massacre.

Having worked with oreum as her main subject for the past 10 years, she said that their shape is similar to that of traditional Korean tombs, with many of them home to the actual tombs of those who lost their lives during the massacre. The oreum are symbolic tombs of Jeju and “that’s how I relate them to 4.3,” she said.

“Oreum — Connected Lives,” a sparse painting of a large tree and a house with a smaller house within it (both without doors or windows), represents the “vicious cycle” of pain on Jeju where the horror and hurt felt from the massacre is transferred from those who experienced the tragedy to younger generations.

One of her sculptures “4.3, 1948,” named after the day attributed to the beginning of the massacre, sat in the middle of the room. Two barn-like houses — one white, the other black — are surrounded by a metal frame. She said the white house represents life while the other represents death, but that they are both still oppressed by the seven years of death.

Oh Seung-kook, deputy secretary general of the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation (the organization that runs the museum within the 4.3 Peace Park) and attendee of the event, said that he wasn’t sure that reconciliation is possible through art but that “when exhibitions are held here, it makes people come and to think about 4.3 again.”

For Oh, because of the abstract nature of the paintings, he was unable to exactly understand their meaning. “I’m having a hard time understanding. 4.3 was very specific and distinct event, but this kind of art work tries to explain it in an abstract way.”

With having known many artist who have dealt with the subject of the massacre, he said that the paintings’ abstract nature created an atmosphere completely different to what he has previously seen on the controversial subject.

Chun Young Woong, a Jeju resident visiting with his family had a similar impression, though he had not fully examined all the pieces. “I don’t get the image of 4.3. It does not hit me, but I can see the artist trying to capture the meaning of 4.3 in many, many ways.”

He continued that art has an important job in resolving the pain still felt by the massacre, but that for this particular event more research needs to be done to properly understand what occurred on Jeju in 1948 to 1954. “I believe that art can work very efficiently with reconciliation and solving and healing problems, but when I look at 4.3 itself I don’t know if there is enough information for reconciliation.”

For Park, she has a very specific goal in mind behind this exhibition. “I just hope that this exhibition provides the opportunity for both Jeju islanders and mainlanders to reconcile.”

“Oreum — Seome Salda” runs until Feb. 26.

(Interpretation by Angela Kim)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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