[imText1]An exhibition about North Korea’s infamous system of political prison camps recently held in a central Seoul gallery received an unprecedented amount of public attention, the organizers have revealed.
The original exhibition, ‘Where Love Does Not Exist’, was held at Gana Art Space in Insa-dong from February 2nd to 14th, attracting in excess of 25,000 visitors including the wife of President Lee Myung Bak.
The host of the exhibition, “Sage,” a North Korean human rights students’ group based at Handong University, says of the exhibition’s success, “We wanted to present a new model for the North Korean human rights movement.”
Ha Im Suk, the president of Sage who planned the exhibition, explained more to The Daily NK, “I believe that when we decide to talk about North Korean human rights or political prison camps to people for the first time, we should not proceed in a direction that will make people feel repulsed. I think the era of shocking the people with images has passed.”
Han Jin Sik, a junior in the group, agreed, and said that the group achieved their goal in that regard. “Apparently when people first saw our exhibition,” Han said, “they actually thought it was ‘pretty’ and ‘cool’. We applied various visual elements in an attempt to allow many people to come into easy contact with North Korean human rights issues.”
New forms were tried in public relations as well. Yang Jin Ah, a fourth year student with Sage explained, “During the process of advertising the exhibition, we used various social networking services like Facebook, Twitter and Cyworld. Especially, one of our members becoming the Cyworld’s ‘female member of the day’ brought us a lot of publicity.”
However, Yang quickly added, “We did not host this exhibition especially to conduct a movement. Simply, we began this task based on the desire to inform people about North Korean political prison camps.”
In truth, ‘Sage’ did not begin as an activist organization. Rather, it began in 2008 as something akin to a ‘book club’, where several interested students gathered to read and discuss a book about North Korea, before members finally hosted an exhibition within their university for the first time in November of last year. Only then did they decide to prepare ‘Where Love Does Not Exist’ in order to share what they had studied and learned.
While it is sadly rather uncommon to find young Koreans taking an interest in the human rights situation across the border in North Korea, there are a number of North Korean defectors at Handong University, and they were happy to share their experiences in order to inspire Sage members.
“A female senior of mine told me about her personal experiences at a gathering center, Ha explained. “A gathering center is the place where those who try to defect to China are sent when they are returned to North Korea. Life in the gathering center was unimaginably horrible. After hearing that story, I searched for and read more related books.”
“The biggest problem,” she added, “is being unaware of the reality. Since people do not know about the reality of the North Korean human rights issue, they cannot take an interest in it. It’s just me, but not only did I not read any books on the matter before entering university, I didn’t even hear about it.”
Therefore, “I hope that every young person can make one North Korean defector friend. If they become friends and communicate, they can learn about the reality of North Korea naturally and will have no choice but to think about the people who are suffering in North Korea.”
“North Korea is inseparable from our generation, and the ones who need to consider unification continuously are our generation. So, even if people don’t take part in activities publicly, being aware of the relevant facts in and of itself can be considered participating in the North Korean human rights movement.”