It was not only the leaders of the two Koreas that caught the attention of journalists from all over the world during the historic inter-Korean summit at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone on Friday.
Also in the spotlight: the artworks hanging behind them.
According to the Blue House, all the works hanging in Peace House during the summit were deliberately selected and installed for symbolic reasons. In this article, the Korea JoongAng Daily selects some to explain the context and introduce the artists who created them.
Among the works, the first one in which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed interest was the spectacular 4.5-meter (14.7-foot) landscape painting 〈Mount Bukhan〉 by South Korean artist Min Joung Ki. Pointing to the painting, which depicts a panoramic view of the mountain in northern Seoul, Kim asked South Korean President Moon Jae In, “What technique was used to paint this?”
Moon replied, “This is a Western(-style) painting but it was painted with our (traditional) East Asian techniques.”
The artist Min, 69, said in an interview with Yonhap News after seeing the summit on television, “The president gave a very correct explanation.” He said he makes works with oil and acrylic paints, which are traditional mediums for Western paintings, but he uses old East Asian techniques of making light brush strokes and combining scenes seen from multiple viewpoints in one canvas.
“I feel more than satisfied to see my work in a very important historic scene,” the artist added.
Min, who belonged to the Minjung (People’s) art movement in the 1980s, linked to social realism, has focused on landscapes since the 1990s. The artist is well known for not only combining diverse perspectives but also sometimes overlapping the historical past with the present of a site he paints.
Regarding the tradition of multiple viewpoints in East Asian landscapes, the famous British painter David Hockney repeatedly said it enables the viewers to travel into nature in the paintings, while Western landscapes with one fixed viewpoint force the viewers to stay in front of the nature.
In accordance with such a view, the Blue House wrote on its blog, “By hanging the painting on the first floor lobby of Peace House, we mean to invite the first-ever North Korean leader coming to South Korean territory into a famous mountain of Seoul.”
The artwork which Moon explained in the most detail was South Korean photographer Kim Jung Man’s work in the reception room on the first floor of Peace House.
It carries the image of a preface drawn by calligrapher Kim Eung Hyeon (1927-2007) for 〈Hunminjeongeum〉, a book King Sejong (1397-1450) and his scholars wrote to explain the Korean alphabet of hangul, which they invented. (Hunminjeongeum was the initial name of Hangul.) Photographer Kim took pictures of the calligraphy and colored two of the consonants in the text, which are the initials of the two Koreas’ leaders surnames, blue and red.
Moon explained that the two words that included the colored consonants are "communicate" and “create.” North Korean leader Kim replied, “You carefully considered such details.”
The two leaders also looked closely at a huge painting of Mount Kumgang in the meeting room on the second floor and conversed about it. Shin Jang Sik, who created the painting in 2001, said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, “I made the painting 7 meters wide to express the spirit of Korean people.”
Shin’s nickname is ‘Mount Kumgang painter’ because the 59-year-old South Korean artist has focused on depicting the famous mountain in North Korea since the 1990s. The painting’s title is 〈Mount Kumgang view from Sangpaldam.〉 The artist said the scenery viewed at the Sangpaldam, a valley with eight ponds, is one of the most beautiful views of Mount Kumgang.
The Blue House wrote on its official blog that the mountain is also “the symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation,” as the 1998-2008 Mount Kumgang tourism project was one of the most important inter-Korean economic exchanges.
Among other works that attracted the attention of the two leaders were a black-and-white work behind the table holding the visitor’s book on the first floor, and a seascape hanging in the banquet room on the third floor.
The former work is 〈Sanun〉 which means 'resonance of mountains,' a woodblock print created by Kim Joon-kwon in 2009. Kim, 62, also belongs to the Minjung art movement and is a pioneer of woodblock prints of landscapes in Korea. His prints are famous for having the feel of East Asian ink paintings.
The seascape is a painting by Shin Tae Soo entitled 〈From Dumu Port to Cape Jangsan〉 that depicts the Yellow Sea around Baengnyeong Island just south of the Northern Limit Line. “The installation of the painting comes from our hope we should make the island a place of peace,” the Blue House wrote.
Culture Desk Chief at the Korea Joongang Daily and Adjunct Professor at Sungshin Women's University's College of Arts.