[Newsmaker] Korean cultural figures accused of sexual harassment

By Rumy Doo
  • Published : Oct 24, 2016 - 17:50
  • Updated : Oct 25, 2016 - 02:54

A number of prominent individuals in the Korean literary and art worlds -- including a poet, a contemporary art museum curator and a novelist whose recent work explored a love affair between a high school girl and an elderly man -- have been outed via social media for sexual harassment, with the allegations shedding light on the power dynamics that dictate the Korean arts world.

The string of allegations began appearing last Wednesday when poet Park Jin-seong, 38, was accused of sexually harassing women who wanted to learn to write poetry from him.

A Twitter user, who did not reveal her identity, said that Park had made remarks amounting to sexual harassment, such as that “a woman needs to know the taste of a man,” to her last year. She had been in contact with Park to learn poetry from him, she said, and was a minor when the alleged incident took place.

The poet posted an apology to his blog Saturday: “There is no excuse for my inappropriate speech and actions. I apologize to everyone who is in pain because of me.”

Park added that he would close his social media accounts and call off all works lined up for publication.

From left, writer Park Bum-shin, poet Park Jin-seong and Ham Young-jun, chief curator at Ilmin museum  

More allegations of sexual harassment involving well-known literary figures surfaced last Friday when writer Park Bum-shin, 70, was accused of sexually harassing co-workers and fans. 

A Twitter user who claimed to be a former editor of a publishing house who had worked with Park Bum-shin on his book of essays, posted: “He made us continually pour drinks for him and groped (writers’ and fans’) bodies. But nobody could object due to the power dynamics.”

In Park Bum-shin’s novel “Eun-gyo,” which was made into the film “A Muse” in 2012, a 70-year-old poet falls in love with Eun-gyo, a high school girl, and pines for her sexually.

According to the post, the novelist had called his female victims “Eun-gyo.”

Park Bum-shin posted, then abruptly deleted, an apology via Twitter on Saturday, the sincerity of which was questioned by many. 

“Like (French writer) Stendhal, I’ve lived and written and loved. ... The crime is probably that I’ve lived this long,” his post read. “It is this old man’s fault if anyone has been hurt by my words or actions. Sorry.”

On Sunday, novelist Park posted another apology, saying, “I want to apologize to everyone who has been hurt by my actions. How many are my faults regarding life and people. I am gripped by painful remorse these days.”

Ilmin Museum of Art’s chief curator Ham Young-jun has also been accused by numerous social media users of sexually harassing female students and artists. 

Though Ham uploaded an apology saying he would resign from all positions on document-sharing platform Evernote on Saturday, he contested one of the allegations Sunday. Ham asserted he had merely tried to remove the alleged victim’s clothes because she had vomited on them in her inebriated state.

“It was my girlfriend who handled all of the undressing and redressing of (the alleged victim),” Ham wrote on Evernote. “I hope (the alleged victim) will remember correctly and tell the truth.” 

The woman in question wrote last week on Twitter that she had been sexually abused by Ham. “Back when I was in university, I got very drunk and when I opened my eyes, I was at someone’s home. The lights were out,” she said, proceeding to describe how Ham had inserted his hands underneath her clothing.

Another Twitter user revealed last week that she had been sexually harassed by Ham sometime around November to December last year. Many others spoke up as well, saying that Ham had “dirty habits” when it came to women.

On Sunday, a dozen or so art students held a protest against Ham in front of Ilmin Museum in Gwanghwamun. 

The movie community also became involved Sunday when a Twitter user alleged she had been approached by a film critic surnamed Kim, who lured her into his house under the pretext of teaching her about film and literature, then sexually abused her. She was a minor at the time, the alleged victim wrote.

The instances point to the often unfettered influence that renowned, veteran artists have within Korean art circles.

“For aspiring writers who are eager to be admitted into established literary circles, it’s hard for us to report abuse,” 25-year-old creative writing student Lee told local media. 

“These kinds of power dynamics and unfair practices are prevalent in Korean literary and culture circles,” Lee said.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)