The Black Curtain series
After a bustling busy day, comes the night. As I lie down in bed, mixed emotions conjured up - experiences of the present and mistakes and faults of the past. Out of all, the past mistakes and faults keep coming back to replay in a continuous loop in my head. Even if they could have been forgotten, memories still haunt me in my unconsciousness and come in the form of nightmares at times.
The Korean War which left a great pain in the Korea history has technically never ended and yet is called ‘the forgotten war’ in the United States. History remembers deaths only up until they are forgotten and what still stays are scars of painful memories. We bear the scars in a struggle to both remember and let go.
The Black Curtain series discusses some of historical deaths in the Korean society. I had been working on the subject matter of individuals’ death since 2012, and this series was born from there on. We have been forgotten and have shown very little interest, or if not all we have deliberately neglected what happened in our history. Those unfinished historical events have been twisted and distorted and haunt us now. Maybe it is time to bring the forgotten past stories back so that we will finally be able to face what’s lost and forgotten, as well as what to discover and to remember.
To be more precise, the Black Curtain series does not just focus on death itself in the history. It rather stems from the trauma and anxiety that occurred during the process of the society’s historical experiences turning into individuals’. Trauma is generally categorised into two groups- big ‘T’ trauma and little ‘t’ trauma. Big ‘T’ trauma refers to life distressing events such as war and natural disasters.
Historically and socially, as well as at an individual level, the Korean War belongs to the big ‘T’ group. Historian Bruce Cumings writes in his book The Korean War, “The point to remember is that this was a civil war and, as a British diplomat once said, ‘every country has a right to have its War of the Roses.’ The true tragedy was not the war itself, for a civil conflict purely among Koreans might have resolved the extraordinary tensions generated by colonialism, national division, and foreign intervention. The tragedy was that the war solved nothing: only the status quo ante was restored, only a cease-fire held the peace.” Perhaps many social issues in today’s Korea still have their roots in the Korean War.
The war that caused a gigantic trauma to the entire society has never ended nor properly settled but has smeared into the everyday life of Koreans and passed down to generations. There is a saying in Korea that goes “about a half of Koreans are children of refugees”. My grandfather left his hometown in Hwanghae province (North Korea) and settled in Seoul (South Korea) where he welcomed my baby dad to the world. As almost all his colleagues including himself at managerial level were on the verge of being shot to death, he fled to Seoul. And when my father was twelve, he discovered his father dying of a heart attack. Father and son had a nap together and one of them couldn’t wake up forever. What a life. It must have been tough.
Such waves of tragedy reverberate lives and stories of countless individuals and ultimately smudge differences between those who experience and those who didn’t. I wanted to capture the raw tragedy and paint it as it is – lost, faded and even altered tragedy we are living in.
The Black Curtain series is both a portrait and a landscape that paint the deeply rooted complex and trauma in the Korean society. Disguised in the past looks, the landscape is an unresolved shadow of the present that follows continually. I bring traumas of the historic event to the canvas as if they are stars in the spotlight on the stage and situate them somewhere between the past and present, between reality and memory hence I can recreate and present vividly what lies before my eyes.