Three years ago, the KCC hosted a special exhibition commemorating 60 years after the start of the Korean War. 40 Korean artists were invited to submit works inspired by themes related to the war, and these works were then auctioned in aid of British war veterans.
This year is 60 years after the Korean War ceasefire, and also marks 130 years of relations between Britain and Korea. Stephanie Seungmin Kim, who curated that Present from the Past exhibition at the KCC, presented a new exhibition including specially commissioned works, again to commemorate the war and the sacrifices made by Korean and foreign forces.
The evening of the opening started at 5 Cavendish Square, with a dinner hosted by former Minister of Culture, now member of parliament, Choung Byoung-gug, together with recently-arrived ambassador Lim Sung-nam. Also present were many Korean war veterans and some of the artists who contributed to the exhibition. The venue, which overlooks Shin Meekyoung’s equestrian statue currently installed in the middle of the square, was a perfect place to have a relaxed dinner before a 3-minute walk to Asia House for the official opening.
The formal opening of the exhibition was hosted by the BBC’s Mishal Husain, who also participated in the Present from the Past three years ago. As well as fronting the opening formalities, she put together an 8-minute feature on the exhibition for BBC World.
For the TV feature she interviewed three of the artists, the curator, and war veteran David Kamsler MBE who is featured in one of the rooms of the exhibition. Kamsler has no children and thus symbolically represents the last of the line of veterans, who are now increasingly advanced in years. He has never had the chance to revisit Korea, but in Anna Paik’s portrait he is painted in front of Baekdu-san, and Soonhak Kwon reconstructs Kamsler’s living room with all its memorabilia of a long life.
Speeches from the Ambassador, the former Minister of Culture, and Major General Mike Swindells of the British Korean Veterans Association highlighted the sacrifices that had been made but also the undying gratitude of the Republic of Korea for those sacrifices. And from the perspective of the veterans, seeing Korea now, the sacrifices are all worthwhile.
In between the speeches, a choir which included a Korean member of the Royal Opera Chorus sang a number from War Horse and of course Arirang. Minister Choung’s speech touched on Korea’s advances in the last 60 years. He himself grew up in a post-war Korea, in which the food he ate at school was funded by foreign aid. But now in the 21st century South Korea is itself a donor of foreign aid. And in a surprise ending to his speech, Choung Byoung-gug instead of proposing a toast, performed a formal bow of respect (큰절) to the veterans present.
The exhibition itself is on at Asia House (63 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7LP) until 20 July. LKL will be posting a review shortly.