Two Artists Discover How to Counter Homogenized School WorkOn April 19, 1960, Korean college students nationwide unified and protested the rigged elections and the oppressive governance of their country by President Syngman Rhee. Thirty-one years later, a group of 8-year-olds from Jaedong Elementary School presented an art exhibition to make the statement that they did not need to excel in all facets of their student life. For them, the show was the means of an ambitious protest to assert their rights as creative beings as well as academic achievers.
The organizer of the exhibition, Park Kyong-gwi, is the father of one of the artists in the group. He lent his private studio for the one-day event. Mr. Park practices Buddhist art and said he came up with the idea to encourage his son, Park Son-je, who had been feeling insecure about his academic progress when he compared himself to his peers.
"I wanted my son to understand that he did not need to be good at everything," he said. "His classmates had all mastered the alphabet and other things like dictation, but he was behind. I guess he started feeling little droopy. So I promised him an exhibition as a gift for his entrance into elementary school," Mr. Park continued, while noting that it was the least he could do when other parents are sending their children abroad for a better education.
The thirteen children met in a small after-school art class taught by Kim Mi-kyong for little over a year. Practicing unique approaches to teaching art, Ms. Kim, an artist herself, began every class by reading excerpts of stories taken from history books and ethnographic texts aloud. The subjects were largely centered on fictional characters or unusual sites that the children might have not seen or learned about at school. The class was organized mainly to highlight the children's creative skills, which they would not otherwise pursue in schools or other institutions in Korea.
"Some interesting discussions come up every session. When we were talking about the Gate of Independence and the Japanese annexation of Korea the other day, one of the girls in the group, who had lived in Japan, interrupted me and explained to the kids that not all Japanese oppress Koreans," she said. Ms. Kim added that the children were interested in drawing subjects that were somewhat familiar to them.
The final products are divided into two parts in the exhibition - paintings and clay works. The two-dimensional works, consisting mostly of watercolors on paper, range from family portraits to semi-abstract paintings. The children's distinct character shows in their work. Some manage to depict the Crater Lake of Mountain Baekdu in few bold brushstrokes, while others attempt to portray even the tiniest veins on the maple leaves. The ceramics, on the other hand, were used as a flexible medium to help the children develop a sense of volume in three-dimensional works.
Ms. Kim notes that many children in the group are keen observers. "I mean there are kids who always sit beside the good ones and copy what they are drawing, but most are fairly original. They are thinking ahead to what they will be drawing while I am reading the story. Also, the kids remember the stories they heard here. That's part of creating art. People remember what they have experienced through their hands," she said,
To avoid following every tradition practiced by adult artists in older generations, the exhibition was staged on one day only.
"I wanted this to be a more significant affair than a formal exhibition," Mr. Park says.
Titled "A Cool Day, Cool Friends," the show was held Saturday, viewed by the artists' classmates and parents. The opening reception also was Park Son-je's birthday party, adding to Mr. Park's satisfaction with the event.
by Park Soo-mee