War: brutal fact and sad symbol

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War: brutal fact and sad symbol


This photograph, by artist Koo Bon-chang, of a warhead dating from the Korean War is part of an exhibit at the Daelim Contemporary Art Museum. Provided by the museum

Lee Man-su’s eyes were on the verge of tearing up as he looked at a re-creation of wartime Korea featured at the “Ah! 6.25” exhibition at the War Memorial of Korea. The diorama depicted a boy and a girl wearing ragged clothes sitting on dirt eating noodles.

“That was us, all of us, at that time,” said the 71-year-old, staring at the piece for a good five minutes earlier this week at the memorial in Yongsan, central Seoul. “The happiest moments were when the occasional U.S. soldier would take pity on us and give us chocolates.”

For Park Sang-yup, 40, the exhibition was a chance to reconnect his children to their Korean roots. “We live in Kansas and are going back there next week. I wanted my kids to understand why the Korean War happened,” he said, as he pointed to a hand grenade in a glass case and looked at his two sons.

Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, Korea’s biggest museums and galleries are paying tribute in their own ways. Some give straightforward factual accounts of the war while others take a more symbolic approach. At the Daelim Contemporary Art Museum’s exhibition “On the Line,” the Korean War is used more as an artistic metaphor for pain and loss rather than as a simple historical matter.

“Our intention for the exhibition was not to showcase direct records of the Korean War, but instead, to use the war to reflect on our present,” said Shin Su-jin, director of the exhibition and a research professor at Yonsei University.“It is no longer persuasive to give people just facts, especially about the Korean War. The artists featured in the exhibition use emotion, reason, humor and sometimes random imagination to convey their own perception of the Korean War and communicate that to viewers.”

By Cho Jae-eun [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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