Unify Korea was successful. Robert Lee, Executive Director of Asian American Arts Center shared his thoughts on the Common Ground with me:
I have been meaning to send you some thoughts on your conference. Put these together – an initial perspective I think at least worth airing. Perhaps they will be of some use.
A remarkable event on March 2ed, called “Common Ground: international symposium for Unify Korea, A Project of Contemporary Art”, joining high level politically informed leaders with little known art developments, something I think has not been done before. This was very informative about North Korea, but in filling a gap that was largely unknown, not only was the demonization of the North mitigated, but much more was revealed. A social and political art structure as valid as it was in other eras, like for example, when Christianity was the uncontested authority in the middle ages or even during the Renaissance. Valid given the definition of art propagated, encouraged, and uncontested within the borders of North Korea, the art that results is quite remarkable. Rooted in the work of a Korean master known as the father of modern art in Korea, (I don’t have his name, possibly it was Whanki, but I saw the masters work when I was in South Korea in 1995) the art evolving starts from its own legitimacy.
The criticism that was mentioned at the conference was that the work was not honest. Actually I don’t think any artist there competing for the honor and recognition, would not be harboring sentiments opposed to the government or its ideals, so honest is not the right word. Rather this art is not expressive of individual opinion and sentiment. It is creative within the terms of its own endeavor. It is possible to accept an art culture so far removed from that we experience in the West and see it on its own terms. Then its possible to entertain how far we in the West have gone astray.
Political power in the midst of resistance to global pressures, has developed the means to create in North Korea a climate of belief in which a unique art structure can form and flourish. Thus in the West with such immense political power in play, we can glimpse through their example, outside the climate of belief that envelops us, and realize how the structure of our arts system/s maintains certain conditions like market diversification, polarization, and confusion, protections for class stratification, art innovations co-opted by ‘new audiences’, and fails to create consensus, fails to empower their makers except as individuals, fails to coalesce parameters of beauty, etc. that the arts in other eras always sought. If North Korean art is the product of an artificial construct, how much more in the West is the arts a fabrication of an artificial construct, basking in the illusion of its own freedoms, enslaved by its own individual excesses, and manipulated by a far more savvy, ‘artificial’ system of power than anything in North Korea.
If we are on a road to freedom, and it is conceivable that we are not yet there, we are still unsatisfied, we have not reached the goals of a human flowering, not in NYC. Consider that in the West things have become so jaded, that aside from the old dreams of industrialization can now be seen as bankrupt, and a new sustainability order may hardly have enough time to salvage some of the human benefits that have been created. Consider that in China, after the benefits of materialism have inundated the urban areas, and yet there is a development, a popular ‘movement’ by students on various campuses to explore Confucianism and the values of a benevolent ruler/scholar, a Confucianism that is at the roots of North Korean politics and culture. The revival of historical forms reinvented may not be inconceivable to meet the needs of a future we have yet to awaken.