Gwangju Biennale Foundation President Lee Yong-woo has resigned over the censorship of an artwork by the Korean government, the Korea Herald reported. At a Monday press conference, Lee, who co-founded the biennial in 1995, took “full responsibility” for the politically motivated removal of a painting by Hong Seong-dam that’s critical of Korean President Park Geun-hye. The Wall Street Journal describes the painting as follows:
In the ten-meter-wide work, Ms. Park is shown held at the arms by a figure in military fatigue [sic] that resembles her late father, Park Chung-hee, as well as her current chief of staff, Kim Ki-choon. In the painting, Ms. Park is confronted by parents of schoolchildren who drowned in April’s ferry sinking.
A number of artists have withdrawn, in protest, from the group exhibition in which the work was to appear as part of the biennial, and Lee’s announced departure follows the resignation of the exhibition’s curator on August 10, according to a report in The Hankyoreh.
“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 said.
Hong and other artists have previously criticized the Korean president for her direct link to the country’s authoritarian past, the Wall Street Journal notes. Her father, Park Chung-hee, ruled the country from a 1961 coup through his assassination in 1979, and Park has drawn criticism for her recent appointment of Kim Ki-choon as her chief of staff. As a prosecutor during her father’s administration, the Journal explains, Kim helped rewrite the Korean constitution to keep the elder Park in power.
The exhibition containing the censored work, Sweet Dew at the Gwangju Museum of Art, is part of a “special project” of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation that opened August 8 to “initiate dialogue ahead of the open of the 10th Gwangju Biennale.” It was curated by a group of Korean scholars, writers, and curators and is intended to honor the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the Foundation. The Gwangju Biennial itself, this year titled Burning Down the House is curated by Jessica Morgan and her team, and opens in the Biennale Hall in Jungoui Park on September 5.