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    Gwangju Lessons

    In turbulent times such as these, artists are repeatedly confronted with the question of the form that artistic involvement can take. The exhibition Gwangju Lessons examines the democratic uprising in Gwangju, South Korea in 1980 – called the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, 5·18 or Gwangju Uprising – and the Gwangju People’s Art School (1983–86) that emerged as a consequence. Moreover, the exhibition uses these events to rethink the contents and strategies of political and artistic interventions today. Such an undertaking is of urgent relevance, in light not only of the worldwide protest movements in recent years but also of the resurgence of autocratic forms of government.

    In reaction to the trauma of seeing the democracy movement violently suppressed by South Korea’s military junta, a group centered around the artist Sung-dam Hong founded the People’s Art School. The school was open to all and provided a creative space for experimenting with democratic thinking and action while avoiding the recreation of new hierarchies. The artistic process was intended to foster a sense of community and a shared approach to a new vision of society, with the final artistic product being regarded as less of a priority than togetherness and exchange. The core artistic technique was the woodcut, which could also be used outside of the courses for creating and distributing flyers and banners. Building community and self-organization were thus invariably viewed as a form of self-empowerment.

    In Gwangju Lessons, the Rwandan Dutch artist Christian Nyampeta takes the memories of the Gwangju Uprising and the People’s Art School as a starting point for his artistic reflection. He creates a dialog between the woodcuts made in the People’s Art School and materials taken from the 5.18 Archives, so that visitors can experience the many different voices of the community, the history of the uprising and the school itself. At the same time, he supplements this historical material with narratives that locate the Gwangju Uprising within a global context – as an event of relevance to us in the here and now. Nyampeta’s art creatively reinterprets the questions that arise and the examination of the historic sources. His interdisciplinary work in the fields of art, industrial design and art theory examines questions of how people who find themselves in conflict-ridden contexts are able to live with one another.
    Additionally, as part of the exhibition, a new edition of the People’s Art School will take place. The Cologne version of the school is aimed at all who wish to (re)consider and discuss their own general and specific political realities with others. The People’s Art School invites the participants to learn with and from each other and develop a new form of artistic expression together.

    Title Gwangju Lessons
    Curator Binna Choi
    Dates July 3 – September 27, 2020
    Venue Akademie der Künste der Welt,
    Im Mediapark 7, 50670 Köln, Germany
    Free admission  


    Binna Choi is the director at Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons in Utrecht, where she engages with both its artistic program and the organizational matters as her curatorial practice. There, she conceived the trans-disciplinary project Grand Domestic Revolution (2010-2012) and the artistic research program Composing the Commons (2013-2016), each of which involved a number of collaborations across fields. Besides, she has been the faculty member of Dutch Art Institute and working with Arts Collaboratory. In 2016, Choi was the curator for the 11th Gwangju Biennale and currently is the member of Akademie der Künste der Welt / Köln and the Community Economies Research Network.