December 22, 2009 07:36
Kang Jin-myong has captured the beauty of Korean nature on canvas, and at the age of 57, the defector from North Korea will have his first individual exhibition in Seoul. Some 70 of his pictures can be seen at the Seoul Art Gallery in Insa-dong, downtown Seoul, for a week from Feb. 1, 2010. "Having your own exhibition is something you can't even dream of in North Korea," he says.
Born in Kyongsong, North Hamgyong Province, Kang escaped North Korea in 1999. After graduating from an arts college in Pyongyang in 1974, he worked as an artist employed by the military, drawing the usual portraits of North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, and propaganda paintings of battle scenes.
"I tried very hard to take my family with me, but I failed in the end," he recalls. Kang went to Qingdao in China and had a fairly stable life posing as a Korean-Chinese while working in an accessories factory run by a South Korean. Then he was struck by liver cirrhosis in 2007. At the advice of an acquaintance, Kang arrived in South Korea in April 2008.
Three months later, he moved into public housing in Sindang-dong, Seoul, and took up painting again immediately. "What else could I do except painting?" he says.
Kang now spends all day painting. He participated in invitational exhibitions and open contests by galleries, but had to use a false name for fear of retaliation by North Korea. Then a dream opportunity came from the Seoul Art Gallery, which took notice of Kang's talent. It offered to hold an individual exhibition for free of charge, providing the costs for gallery hire and printing catalogues.
Ma Si-poong, director of the Seoul Art Gallery, says, "There are many artists from North Korea like Kang who are very talented. I wanted to give them a little help so that they can freely pursue their art."
"Compared to the past where I was forced to keep painting the two Kims, now I feel like I'm in paradise where I can freely do creative work," Kang says.
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