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.”