▲ A contemplative dongjaseok, or traditional Jeju stone statue. Photo courtesy Jeju World Heritage Team, Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
[Read the tour itinerary to accompany this introduction here.]
Jeju has long attracted outsiders with its mystique. From Qin Shi Huang and his desired elixir, to the exiles such as Chusa, sent here for symbolic death yet finding inspiration, Jeju has a unique hold on the psyche.
This pull remains, and is even intensifying. While for decades millions sought weekend respite - and Jeju has long been the honeymooners destination of choice - recently a more spiritual hunger has been answered by the exile island’s long call.
As explored by Kristen Bialik on page 1, Jeju has become a magnet for refugees from modern pressures, fleeing mainland conurbations, seeking something deeper. She writes:
“While the presence of international settlers has long been known, Jeju natives and the local Jeju government have noticed the influx of a new population: the munhwa ijuja, or cultural migrants, Korean citizens from the mainland who come to Jeju seeking a cultural shift.”
Seeking a cultural shift, the munhwa ijuja have instigated seismic changes, transforming Jeju society, deep into remote village communities.
▲ There are plenty of places around Jeju for quiet contemplation, such as at the Kim Young Gap Gallery. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
Unlike many regions in Korea, where urbanization continues to empty villages, on Jeju there is a reverse tide. Mirroring mature economies globally, the Korean artistic classes are yearning what has been lost in the race to modernization and are returning to the land, searching sheltered enclaves.
It was this very race to modernization, exemplified in the Saemaeul Undong, or New Villages Movement, that almost sounded rural Korea’s death knell, culturally at least. The movement of the 1970s, led by President Park Chung-hee, sought to drag Korean communities into the industrial era and traditional practices were seen as obstacles to this.
As people now return to the land, the government is again focusing its attentions on village practices, this time in the hope of revitalizing cultural heritage through rural community programs, drawing from historic and cultural references.
On Jeju this has contributed to the birth of artist enclaves, which have become hubs of artistic energy. Their growth has paralleled the inward migration, fusing and spawning further cultural evolution. No longer is Jeju a place of exile, but rather pilgrimage, as noted by Lee Jin-Joo of the Koreana periodical.
▲ Much like this sketch at the Kim Young Gap Gallery, visitors to Jeju seek secluded spots to sit and ponder. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
“In the past, Jeju was a barren land for the arts, lacking such basic infrastructure as theaters and performance venues. But as immigrant artists arrived, Jeju has emerged as a new mecca for culture and art.”
A new mecca indeed. As word reaches Seoul of Jeju's promise, villages have been transformed and “choga,” traditional Jeju houses, can be seen boasting murals and bright colors, signaling new life’s breath in once depopulating communities.
For the cultural visitor, less enamored by the “honeypot” attractions, Jeju thus offers an emerging cultural infrastructure, including art centers, galleries and still relatively unexplored communal enclaves. Of course, artists can be found throughout Jeju’s galleries, cafes, and workshops, but certain locations have become hives of cultural revitalization.
The Jeju Weekly has thus produced this itinerary below to ensure visitors can savor a taste of Jeju’s recent cultural renaissance. Further details of locations and an introduction to Jeoji-ri Artist Village, Gasi-ri Cultural Village and Seogwipo Artists’ Walk can be found here.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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