People / Interview

Sunjung Kim’s Real DMZ Project Interrogates the North and South Korea Divide

posted 16 Oct 2019

Sunjung Kim. Photo: Jung JM.

Sunjung Kim. Photoⓒ Jung JM

Ongoing since 2012, the Real DMZ Project interrogates the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea through annual, research-based exhibitions that bring together the works of Korean and international artists. Sunjung Kim, the independent curator behind the project, conceived the idea of exploring the DMZ while curating Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima's solo presentation 38 at Seoul's Mongin Art Center in 2008. Revolving around the theme of borders, the exhibition included photographs taken at Imjingak and the Taepung Observatory, sites near the DMZ, that feature individuals with numbers painted on their bodies, such as 3 and 8 to allude to the 38th Parallel that divides the Korean peninsula in two. Kim envisioned a ten-year project, now known as the Real DMZ Project, that would accumulate artworks and archive materials about the complexities surrounding the DMZ.

The first Real DMZ Project assumed the form of an exhibition, which was held in Cheorwon—a small county in Gangwon Province that was once one of the main sites of collision during Korean War, a third of which lies in the DMZ today. As a number of artworks in this iteration proved to be difficult to access, such as German artist Dirk Fleischmann's lavish chandelier (〈Chandelier 363-931〉, 2012), which was located in an underground tunnel, the following exhibitions evolved to become more accessible. For three consecutive years from 2013, the Art Sonje Center in Seoul hosted exhibitions and artist talks. In 2014, the inaugural artist-residency programme took place in Yangji-ri, a former propaganda village established by the South Korean government in the 1970s. In 2015, the exhibition, 《REAL DMZ PROJECT 2015: Lived Time of Dongsong》 (13 August–23 August 2015), moved to Dongsong, a town populated by residents living in the vicinity of the DMZ and soldiers on leave from the border.

Yangji-ri residency location. Courtesy Real DMZ Project.

Yangji-ri residency location. ⓒReal DMZ Project.

That same year, the Real DMZ Project also began to exhibit internationally. With Slought, the Department of English and the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Kim organised 《Cold War, Hot Peace》 (26 February–12 April 12, 2015), a group exhibition of works by artists who had participated in the project. In 2017, a selection of video works travelled to Denmark as part of The Timeshare Project, a two-month international exchange programme during which Kunsthal Aarhus hosted exhibitions from five other institutions. Works by eight Korean Project alumni were then exhibited in 《The Real DMZ: Artistic Encounters》, a group exhibition at New Art Exchange in Nottingham, U.K., in 2018 (27 January–15 April 2018). Most recently, the large-scale exhibition 《DMZ》—featuring works of 61 international artists—at Cultural Station Seoul 284 (21 March–6 May 2019) in Seoul included artworks and archival materials from the project.

《Negotiating Borders》 is the latest Real DMZ Project exhibition, hosted at the Korean Cultural Centre UK in London (1 October–23 November 2019). On view will be existing and newly commissioned works by Korean artists, among them Joung-Ki Min, Minouk Lim, and Yeondoo Jung, that examine the multifaceted perceptions of the DMZ and its position in the inextricable history and present of North and South Korea. Despite its location in the middle of the Korean peninsula, for example, the DMZ is a mystery to the majority of Koreans on both sides.

Kim You Sun, Plank Time (1995). Partial exhibition view: Ssack, Art Sonje Center, Hanok (1995). Courtesy Sunjung Kim.

Kim You Sun, 〈Plank Time〉, 1995. Partial exhibition view of 《Ssack》, Art Sonje Center, Hanok, 1995. ⓒSunjung Kim.

Kim's interest in developing experimental exhibitions is well established. In 1995, she organised 《Ssack》, a seminal group exhibition that took place in an architectural hybrid of traditional Korean and Western-style architecture, respectively known as hanok and yangok in Korean, that stood where Art Sonje Center is now located. Departing from the trend at the time in Korea to exhibit existing work, Kim produced new, site-specific works in conversation with the participating artists. Among them were Bahc Yiso, Choi Jeong Hwa, and Lee Bul—some of the most representative artists of Korean contemporary art today.

Kim's following projects over the years demonstrate a penchant for prodding conversations about new ways of producing and experiencing art exhibitions, while addressing social and political conditions of the contemporary world through art. During her time at the Art Sonje Center, where Kim acted as chief curator and deputy director between 1993 and 2004, she became known for curating forward-thinking exhibitions. In 2005, as the commissioner of the Korean Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale (12 June–6 November 2005), Kim deviated from the more common format of a single presentation in favour of the group exhibition 《Secret Beyond the Door》, which showcased works by 15 Korean artists. That same year, she founded Samuso, a curatorial office with a mission to further the practice of exhibition-making, which leads the Real DMZ Project (2012–ongoing).

In this Ocula Conversation, Kim discusses 《Negotiating Borders》, the Real DMZ Project, and her other projects, both previous and upcoming, including her current position as the president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation since 2017.

※ Click to Read the Full Article on OCULA: Sunjung Kim’s Real DMZ Project Interrogates the North and South Korea Divide(

※ This article was originally published in OCULA( on 12 SEP 2019 and reposted under authority of a partnership between KAMS and OCULA.

Sherry Paik

Editorial Assistant, [Ocula]

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