Music exhibit sounds off on sour notes from the past

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Music exhibit sounds off on sour notes from the past

The Japanese occupation of the last century was a dark period in Korean history, a time that continues to haunt modern-day Korea.
The Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities, a think tank dedicated to studying Japanese colonial era history, is presenting “Collaborationist Music,” an exhibition at the National Central Library in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. The display ends Wednesday.
“This is the first time music related to collaboration activities has been on view,” says Lee Se-il, a researcher at the institute. “Last year, we held an exhibition on collaborative literature. Our attempt is to break from the past and experience a national reconciliation.”
The exhibition features photographs showing Korean musicians who collaborated in making music praising the Japanese colonial administration and Japanese imperialism. Old, tattered banners cry out “Victory to the Imperial nation!” and “Glory to the army!” Videos show black-and-white footage from the colonial occupation and play Korean lyrics that cheer on imperial Japan, such as “We will smash the forces of the U.S. and the U.K.”
Perhaps most astonishing is the explicit and detailed record of activities by composers, lyricists and singers during the colonial period (1910-1945), highlighting people who have long been regarded as significant figures in contemporary Korean music and are taught in elementary schools. Names such as Kim Seong-tae, Hong Nan-pa, Park Si-chun, Hyeon Je-myeong and Lee Heung-ryeol are listed along with their collaboration songs and deeds, such as encouraging the enlistment of Korean men into the Japanese Army.
Record jackets of Korean songs that salute the Japanese efforts are displayed. Also, folk songs long regarded as being authentically Korean are revealed as being Japanese in origin. Bang Hyeong-jin, the secretary general of the Institute, says, “There are numerous commemorative events spotlighting musicians and composers. Our job here was to ring an alarm bell.”
Mr. Bang adds, “So far, none of the descendants of these musicians has raised objections to our exhibition.”

by Choi Jie-ho
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