South Korea: President of biennale resigns over artistic censorship

14 August 2014

The president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, Lee Yong-woo, has resigned over the censorship of a painting included in the Gwangju Bienniale‘s 20th anniversary exhibition, ‘Sweet Dew—After 1980’, at the Gwangju Museum of Art in South Korea.

The offending artwork, a 32-foot-wide painting by Hong Seong-dam titled Sewol Owol, portrays Korean president Park Geun-hye as a maniacal scarecrow facing off against angered parents of children who died in the sinking of the MV Sewol ferry in April 2014, a national tragedy that has had huge political repurcussions.

“I am taking full responsibility for what happened regarding the special exhibit that celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Gwangju Biennale,” Lee said at an 18 August press conference.

“From an art critic’s point of view, the painting should be on exhibit. I don’t think it is taboo to satirize a country’s president … Freedom of artistic expression should not be restricted by the government just because they have the exhibition budget under their control.”

Lee, who co-founded the Gwangju Biennale in 1995, was its artistic director in 2004 and has been its president since 2012.

Protesting the censorship of Hong Seong-dam’s painting several artists took down their pieces in solidarity opposing excessive administrative interference in art, including actions to prevent artists from lampooning the president.

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