It was the worst military disaster for the United States since Valley Forge. But the Battle of Chosin Reservoir ― and countless others like it during the Korean War ― left behind memories of courage and camaraderie, and remembrance for many Korean people.
Among them is artist Kim Mi-jung, who decided to express thanks to veterans by depicting the war’s most dramatic events on canvas in time for the 60th anniversary of its outbreak, in June 2010.
Twenty-one like-minded painters joined Kim to create 96 documentary paintings which include, among others, scenes of the North’s invasion in June 1950, the Battle of the Nakdong Perimeter, the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir and the hand-to-hand combat that continued along the 38th Parallel during the war’s last months.
|Kim Mi-jung poses next to an illustration of U.S. Marines retreating during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)|
Also joining the collection are portraits of the war’s great figures, such as U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, President Syngman Rhee, and South Korea’s first four-star general, Paik Sun-yup.
“The paintings are based on photographic images from the war. And thus the people in the pictures are real figures. That meant a lot to me and the other artists drawing the pictures,” Kim said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
The exhibition was well received, with hundreds viewing the pictures when they were shown at the Combined Forces Command building on the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.
Then-U.S. Forces Korea commander General Walter L. Sharp, whose father had served in the Korean War, also took time to view the depictions and expressed his awe to Kim in person.
Three years since, however, the paintings are in need of a permanent home. Kim has struggled to find a host or buyer and they now reside in Kim’s office closet and a container box in Daegu.
Financial problems plague her, as she struggles to pay the paintings’ storage costs, not to mention the occasional phone call from participating painters who want their drawings back. Kim, however, doesn’t blame her colleagues because she cannot reimburse them for even the most minimum of fees.
“They joined me in good faith. I promised them I would pay them enough to cover at least the drawings’ frame costs. Right now, I have barely enough to just get by myself, and unfortunately I haven’t given them their due money.”
The 96 pictures must be kept together despite it all, adds Kim. They form one story, and an omission of even one picture will take that much of the story away.
“I am very tired after three years of trying to find these paintings a permanent home and I have no problem donating them. I just want to find a place where they can be exhibited together as one for people to see. They are depictions of history, and of a people who sacrificed a lot for us.”
By Jeong Hunny (email@example.com)