▲ Film of Jeju woodlands, central to the community at the time of the massacre. Photo by Tom Willis-Jones
The events centered on the date of April 3rd, 1948, took Jeju into one of the darkest periods of its recent history. A series of flash-points between the police and people swiftly brought about an insurrection that has been called both a Communist Revolt and a People's Uprising.
The Jeju 4.3 Massacre (also known as The Jeju Uprising, The Jeju Incident, The 4.3 Event or simply 4.3) has, at best, a murky place in Korea's national history. It came at a time of great ideological turmoil for the country. A time when the mainland U.S occupation led to a very real fear the island was re-entering a colonial period it thought it had finally escaped.
As the May 10 constitutional elections loomed, local leftist groups began a series of protests that were swiftly put down by local police. In response to this, and the reinstatement of officials known to be Japanese collaborators, a full-scale uprising of the people began that would not officially end until September 1954. Reports vary, but it is estimated between 14,000-60,000 were killed during this period, with those that were complicit in the civilian atrocities yet to face any real public examination.
▲ A shaman performs a shamanic rite. Photo by Tom Willis-Jones
Jane Jin Kaisen's video installation 'Reiterations of Dissent'', at The Jeju 4.3 Peace Institute until December 30th, explores the struggle to clarify the events of 4.3, the opposition between the people's memories and the official history, and the lack of accountability for those responsible. The Jeju-born artist, based in Copenhagen, covers the unreconciled trauma of 4.3 and looks at the island's identity as a place of resistance, linking this to the ongoing tensions in Gangjeong.
As you first enter the grounds of the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park, you quickly notice the emphasis that has been placed on life and nature. Great care has been taken to make the park a beautiful place. Clouds of butterflies accompany you through the idyllic scenery as the distant caw of birds echo overhead, birds that are integral to the installation's dreamlike opening.
Inside, Kaisen's installation is made up of five videos which play concurrently, each showing a different aspect of the tragedy. The screens are placed so that as you watch one, the others flicker in your peripheral vision. Each section bleeds into its neighbour and becomes part of a greater collective narrative. The artist has attempted to “renegotiate representations of memory, history and transnational subjectivity.” Each video works in isolation, but this is a composite piece and the different sections take on all the more meaning when viewed as part of a whole.
▲ The grounds of the April 3rd Peace Park. Photo by Tom Willis-Jones
Anonymous survivors recall the brutalities of their childhood, as both the memorialisation and cremation of victims is played out through the eyes of their relatives. 383 souls that were lost beneath the airport for 63 years. Slowed down shots of crows, dancing skittishly in autumnal scenes, are paired with the blunt mechanics of the cremation furnace. We see a Shaman's ritual next to Roh Muh hyun's official apology in 2003. Their connection highlighting the mystic's role as an outlet for families to confront the tragedy in the years that followed.
In the final video Kaisen explicitly connects the resistance that led to 4.3 with the current fight in Gangjeong. To her the conflict and tension surrounding the naval base is just another episode in Jeju's long history of resistance. The video's conclusion states that, "to truly pacify those who were killed under false accusation and to console the spirit of the deceased, there should be no more war on that island".
'Reiterations of Dissent' is a comprehensive examination of the trauma of the Jeju 4.3 Massacre. It is absorbing, tragic and at times overwhelming. Jane Jin Kaisen utilises pace and sound brilliantly, her imagery haunts you and it has a resonance that lasts long after you have stopped watching. Anyone with an interest in local history, or just a craving for some quality art, would do well to take themselves to the Jeju 4.3 Peace Institute before the end of December.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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