For the first time ever, a group exhibition of art on the subject of Jeju's historic period of military execution known as "4.3" or "Sasam" will take place outside of this nation's borders.
Entitled, "Camellia has Fallen: Contemporary Korean Artists Reflect on the Jeju Uprising," the multimedia collection is being shown at Sonoma County Museum (SCM) in Santa Rosa, California, USA. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate, and Santa Rosa maintains a longstanding "sister city" relationship with Jeju City. The exhibition, co-curated by SCM Executive Director Diane Evans and Artspace.C (Jeju) Director An Hyekyoung, includes 26 works of art by 18 artists in media such as sculpture, painting, silkscreen, charcoal rubbing, animation, and video.
This exhibition follows last year's internationally acclaimed film "Jiseul" (director: O Muel) on the topic, awarded World Cinema Jury Prize Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival in the US. The SCM exhibition, however, has actually been in the making since 2008. That year, following an earlier visit to Jeju as part of a Santa Rosa-Jeju exchange, US-based Mexican artist Mario Uribe held an exhibition of his Jeju 4.3-inspired artwork at Jeju's Artspace.C on the invitation of Director An.
"I couldn’t help not to be involved and motivated," Uribe expresses. "A Jeju reporter asked me once, during an interview about my exhibit in 2008, 'What makes you think you have the right to create artwork about something that is so personal to us as 4.3?' I answered: 'Because I am also a human being, and I am able to feel the same pain that you feel when something like this happens; we are all brothers and sisters in the world.'”
▲ Language Research. Reds. - Park Kyung Houn
Evans describes: "In January [of 2012], I visited Jeju for the first time with Liz and Mario Uribe. At that time, I decided that we should develop an exhibition for the Museum, and we worked with An Hyekyoung to visit artists and to review artwork for the exhibition. I learned a great deal on this visit. I was so impressed with what I discovered that I made a second trip to Jeju in September of [that year] for more discussions about the exhibition."
She is well aware of the politics and conflicting interpretations surrounding this historic incident.
"I also found the 4.3 uprising interesting in relation to the Museums Connect project that I created called, 'North-South: Art as a Tool to Mediate Political Conflict'," Evans continued. "This project was developed as a partnership with the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art and focused in Korea on people living in a region bordered by the DMZ. As I learned more about North Korea, I understood more clearly the significance of the 4.3 uprising. I also learned more about the complex relationship between the US and South Korea."
Significantly, Uribe's exhibition at Artspace.C opened in April of 2008, which marked the 60th anniversary of the original incident that sparked the period of massacre. Kang Yo Bae, Jeju's senior artist on this topic, exhibited no fewer than 50 such works at the 4.3 Peace Park and Memorial Hall that year, bearing the same title as the SCM exhibition and one of his most well-known works.
Kang will travel to Santa Rosa this week for the opening, along with Hyun Ki-young, author of "Sun-i Samch'on" (1979; translated under "Aunt Suni" in 2008; retranslated in 2012); Kim Jongmin, former Jemin Ilbo reporter and senior staff member of the Jeju 4.3 Committee; art critic Kim Jong-gil, filmmaker Im Heungsoon ("Jeju Prayer," 2012), and Artspace.C director An.
Notably absent is prominent Jeju 4.3 artist Koh Gillchun, second only to Kang, who is currently convalescing in hospital. Two of his works will be exhibited.
▲ Released After 60 years - Koh Gillchun
All save Koh will participate in a two-day symposium which follows the exhibition opening, in which they will be joined by Christine Hong, professor of literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, and Yong Soon Min, professor of art at University of California, Irvine. Three films will also be shown: Jiseul (2012), Jeju Prayer (2012), and Memory of Forgotten War (2013, directed and produced by Deann Borshay Liem and Ramsay Liem).
The organizers encountered many challenges along the way, not the least of which was financial.
"SCM is a small private nonprofit without significant individual or foundation support for exhibitions," Evans relates. "We have had to rely on a number of small donations and the goodwill of many people who are helping us with this project. Without An Hyekyoung’s successful efforts to raise funds to ship the artwork and bring important people from Jeju to Santa Rosa, we could not have pursued the exhibition."
An, in turn, recounts great difficulty in attaining said funding for an exhibition on what remains a controversial theme in Korea. She is motivated by what she hopes to accomplish with this unprecedented event: the expression of Jeju identity, including the introduction of its artists and writers and their work in an international setting and the highlighting of Jeju as an idyllic location for creating art; an opportunity for cultural exchange among artists; and most of all, the stimulation of a lively discussion regarding Jeju - US relations which highlights the theme of human rights.
▲ Poster for Jeju Prayer (2012), one of the films screened
Uribe, when asked about his initial motivation, said it was "that such an important incident took place, hardly anyone knew about it outside of Jeju Island and that it could be kept under wraps for so long, reinforcing the notion that there was something terribly wrong and shameful about it."
He sums up his feelings thus: "I hope the people in the US become more aware and mindful of these consequences through this exhibit. For Santa Rosa and Jeju, I hope that this sharing of something so intimate and emotional brings us closer together as sister cities and that it benefits culturally both SCM and Jeju. Personally and perhaps selfishly so, I will cherish seeing Jeju friends here in Santa Rosa and provide the care and hospitality that I have always received while visiting Jeju."
The exhibition opens Feb. 7 and runs through May 4. It is supported in part by Sonoma County Museum, Artspace.C, the Arts Council of Korea, the Jeju 4.3 Peace Foundation, Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, and Liz and Mario Uribe. For more information: http://www.sonomacountymuseum.org/.
Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychologist from New York, currently living on Jeju Island.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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