Forty-two years after the May 18, 1980 Gwangju Uprising in South Korea when thousands of demonstrators were killed and wounded by government troops, the exhibition, Blood and Tears: Portrayals of Gwangju’s Democratic Struggle, continues unfolding fading truths and historical distortions. Blood and Tears explores the history of Gwangju, which had a leading role in the fight for democratic freedom and human rights and subsequently became a hub for internationally recognized contemporary art. The exhibition is curated by Thalia Vrachopoulos, professor of art history at John Jay College and independent curator Soojung Hyun. There will be a symposium on October 12, followed by a closing reception on October 21 featuring a performance by the artist Hong Joo.
Blood and Tears includes work by 19 Minjung artists, and one art collective ranging dating from 1981 to the present. Their media will involve traditional ink painting, woodcuts, and works by contemporary artists inspired by Gwangju Uprising. The latter will feature installations, video, photography, and performances. The socio-political South Korean art movement known as Minjung (People’s) Art emerged soon after May 18, 1980, prompting generations of artists to come. These artists from Gwangju act as witnesses to historical events of the past forty-two years. Collectively, their different voices express the pain and suffering of that time period and the spirit of the freedom informing it.
The remarkable democratic movement that took place in Gwangju was a protest against military dictatorship, social inequity, and neo-imperialism. Minjung artists based in Gwangju worked enthusiastically to bring their art into the socio-political realm and encouraged people to awaken to the social issues of their identity. They impacted public activities and expanded socio-political awareness not only in Korea, but in other countries throughout Asia. In the U.S. they influenced the Korean immigrant community who struggled with their identity while living as a minority in the United States. Gwangju’s political art with its legacy has now come to New York, one of the great centers of the art world.
Blood and Tears: Portrayals of Gwangju’s Democratic Struggle will be on view to October 21, 2022 in the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, 860 Eleventh Avenue at 59th Street, NYC.
Taking a look-back at our last visit to John Jay in 2017-2018 for the exhibition Ode to the Sea, Art from Guantanamo.