Bright colors mask harsh details of Africa’s history

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Bright colors mask harsh details of Africa’s history


“The Caribbean (2008)” by Kim Byung-jong Provided by the gallery

Kim Byung-jong’s paintings make things look pretty at a time when they were anything but.

His exhibition, “Kim Byung-jong - Enchanted on the Road,” is showing at Gallery Hyundai in southern Seoul from next Tuesday.

The exhibition consists of over 60 paintings from extended trips the artist took to Algiers, Tunis, Morocco, Valletta and the Caribbean.

The majority of Kim’s paintings go back to Africa’s New Imperialism period, when European countries raced to establish colonies on the continent.

“Kim turns historical sorrow into a romantic reality,” Gallery Hyundai manager Sung Eun-jin said.

But, of course, to have shown Africa in that light could have detracted from the more complex historical perspective that lurks beneath the bright colors Kim uses in his work. It is nevertheless that perspective that keeps art lovers coming back to his paintings.

“While traveling in Africa, some see the historical frustration in the region, some see the enjoyment in golf courses, but Kim saw something else. He zeroed in on the symphony of broiling rainbow colors and light.”

With his brush strokes, Kim re-imagines Africa’s sweeping transition from hardship to reconstruction and back again.

Among the many dozens of paintings he produced, the “Majorelle Garden” series stands out, and the botanical garden in Morocco that is its namesake was clearly an inspiration to Kim.

Many of Kim’s paintings are inspired by the environment.

In “The Caribbean,” Kim “demonstrates the vigorous energy of nature, which is visually potent in each flower petal,” Sung noted.

As a whole, the paintings quickly make clear that the exhibition is not only about Kim, but about northern Africa itself.

The bulk of the exhibition allows the landscape to play itself out, inviting viewers in by placing them inside the paintings’ borders.

“Abruptly dramatic stories from nature are simultaneously integrated with elegant hanji [Korean traditional handmade paper] work,” Sung said.

The same analysis might apply, she added, “to the lyrics from bathing mallard ducks in the foreground, a frequent motif in his paintings, which depicts the representative Korean traditional sculpture embedded in a foreign landscape.”

The art critic Kim Jong-keun, writing in the exhibition catalogue, said, “Kim uses the scenes as exotic visual theater, while embracing Korean culture. He describes Kim’s work as “contemporary elements harmonized with tradition.”

It is this harmony that makes the paintings look exotic, lyrical and romantic. Indeed, it is the wealth of nature everywhere, where fantasies play out among the flocks of birds and tiers of waterfalls.

“Kim Byung-jong - Enchanted on the Road” continues through June 21 at Gallery Hyundai in southern Seoul. Head to Apgujeong Station, line No. 3, exit 2. For more information, call (02) 519-0800 or visit

By Yang Seung-hee Contributing writer []
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