Sewol Owol (painting)
Artist: Hong Seong-dam
Date of Action: August 2021
Location: Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: City government of Gwangju, South Korea
Description of Artwork: A 32-foot-wide painting, which portrays, among other elements, 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 repercussions. Park is being held back by former president Park Chung-hee (her late father), and her chief of staff Kim Ki-choon.
The Incident: The Biennale Foundation initially claimed that the work’s exclusion from the exhibition had nothing to do with politics and was purely logistical—Hong simply submitted the work late. But it was later revealed that the decision to withhold the painting from the 20th anniversary exhibition was in fact prompted by the city of Gwangju, which sponsors the exhibition to the tune of $2.4 million for this year’s Biennale. The city government had asked that Hong change the painting.
Results of Incident: In response to the censorship of Hong’s work, other artists featured in “Sweet Dew” removed their works from the exhibition and its curator, Yun Beom-mo, resigned. The president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, Lee Yong-woo, also resigned. The case has provoked international protests and has been covered widely.