Gwangju Biennale 2018 Examines Issues of Belonging Amid 'Imagined Borders'

Troy Young, March 21, 2018, 8:29 a.m.

The organizers of the Gwangju Biennale, Asia's biggest event of its kind, unveiled Wednesday the lineup of some 150 artists from 40 countries, including diaspora artists, to uphold its founding spirit of respecting diversity and differences. By making reference to the 1995 inaugural event, titled "Beyond the Borders," this year's festival, with the theme of "Imagined Borders," will showcase artworks by globally recognized artists who have been delving into the notion of belonging, national borders, personal identity and community.

While meeting with reporters in Seoul on Wednesday, Kim Sun-jung, president of the biennale, said the participating artists will take on the issue of how the world has changed since the beginning of globalization and whether the changes have been for the better or worse.

"For example, the curator Gridthiya Gaweewong will deal with the issue of Asian minorities, which has been so far viewed mainly from the Western point of view," she said. "Christine Y. Kim will look at the fact that not everyone has equal opportunity to use the Internet because of various reasons like policy and economic conditions."

This year's biennale will feature works put together by 11 independent curators, unlike the previous editions where an artistic director took charge in selecting works and oversaw the whole biennale.

The curators were finalized in November last year based on their previous works and expansive experiences on issues such as immigration and refugees, which have been largely side-stepped in the narratives of contemporary art.

"As we have multiple curators working independently, some people are concerned about the cohesiveness of the biennale. But the curators work closely together to create a chain of connection and connect the dots," Kim said.

By region, Asia is the biggest group with 103 artists, followed by Europe and South America each with 12, North America with 11 and Middle East with seven.

Participating artists include Los Carprinteros, a Cuban artist collective founded in Havana in 1992; Marcel Duchamp Prize winner Kader Attia, who grew up in France and Algeria; Ala Younis, an artist and curator, based in Amman, Jordan, who made Kuwait's first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013; and Francis Alys, a Belgian-born, Mexico-based artist.

This year's biennale, in its 12th edition, has introduced two new features -- site-specific commissioned works to express the longing for democracy by Gwangju citizens, which culminated in the massive anti-government protest in 1980, and the Pavilion Project in which three prestigious art institutions -- Palais de Tokyo, Helsinki International Artist Programme and Philippine Contemporary Art Network -- hold exhibitions in the city on the sidelines of the biennale.

Also noteworthy is BG Muhn's curation of North Korean art, Chosonhwa.

In a separate media event last week, Muhn said he planned to display a total of 22 paintings, including 4-5 large-scale pieces by multiple North Korean painters, some of which, he believes, might test South Koreans' tolerance of ideological differences. The show will provide a rare chance for visitors to have a peek into the North Korean high art.

The biennale takes place from Sept. 7 to Nov. 11.

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