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Gangneung art fest highlights coastal city's cultural narrative

Seobu Market Yejip (GIAF)
Seobu Market Yejip (GIAF)


Gangneung, Gangwon Province, is a popular year-round travel destination, facing out to the East Sea with the Taebaeksan mountains in the hinterland. It is little known, however, that the coastal city historically has long been home to literature and the arts.

Korea’s great literati, Shin Saimdang, Yi Yul-gok, Heo Nanseolheon and Heo Gyun from Joseon era (1392-1910), were born in the city and some of their houses still stand there.

The inaugural Gangneung International Art Festival kicking off Friday aims to continue the cultural spirit of the coastal city with participation by some 15 artists whose works will be shown at seven venues across the city.

The site-specific artworks bring life to historic sites such as the Noam Tunnel or provide new experiences to visitors of run-of-the-mill, everyday sites such as the popular local GO.re Bookstore and Seobu Market CCC Lounge.

Noam Tunnel (GIAF)
Noam Tunnel (GIAF)


Titled “Tale of a City,” the art festival is a chance to explore the city as if on an expedition. The Noam Tunnel, built during the Japanese colonial era, saw a genocide of civilians during the 1950-53 Korean War. Hong Seung-hye, famously known for geometric abstract art using computer pixels, will show her new work “Searchlight” at the century-old venue.

The digital work will show circular and elliptical shapes exploring the old inner wall of the tunnel, as if shedding light on its tragic history.

“We thoroughly examined every detail of Gangneung and tried to find intertwining stories in the city from nature, geography, food, culture and community,” said Park So-hee, director and chief curator of the GIAF, at a recent press meeting.

She quoted an excerpt from the book “Writings on Cities” by urban sociologist Henri Lefebvre: “Situating art as a city service does not mean to decorate the urban space with artwork. … By discarding recreation, glamorizing and accessorizing, art can be practiced and produced from a social perspective. In other words, life itself in the city can become art.”

Docent-led tours will be available in English, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Mongolian and Thai in collaboration with the Dabom Human Rights Center. The docent program requires a reservation via email in advance. The art festival runs through Dec. 4.

Further details on the art festival can be found on GIAF’s official website. GIAF was organized and funded by the PharmaResearch Cultural Foundation, established in 2018 by PharmaResearch, based in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, and Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)  

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