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Beyond the Panopticon: Unveiling stories of North Korean Refugees
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2015-06-25 14:16:37
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Beyond the Panopticon: Unveiling stories of North Korean Refugees

By Jiyoung Han, NKHR Campaign Team intern


NKHR hosted a multi-media art exhibition “Beyond the Panopticon, depicting the lives of North Korean Refugees. From June 10 to 15, 2015, at Gallery IS in Insadong, Seoul. Beyond the Panopticon illustrated the hardships of North Korean refugees face, evoking the fear and apprehension in pervasive surveillance and state control under the theme of a “panopticon.”  


A panopticon is a type of prison in which captives are constantly visible, yet do not know when they are being observed. They can be observed by prison guards at all times. As North Korean refugees escape through China and Southeast Asia to South Korea, their journey becomes a panopticon, living in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to North Korea. North Korea continues to exert power over North Korean refugees by instilling fear of being visible, of being discovered.


The centerpiece of Beyond the Panopticon was a collaborative piece by three young North Korean art students from Hongik University—Chungguk Ahn, Su Min Ahn, and Jin Song Ko—and five South Korean art students from Dankook University--Hyunji Kim, Songeun Yoo, Danbi Lee, Jihye Shin, and Dayoung Ahn.  Together, they drew three chalkboards representing the journey of North Korean refugees.  Each of the three North Korean students directed the design of one of the three chalkboards.




The exhibition also featured five new drawings by North Korean artist Chunhyok Kang; photographs of North Korean refugees escaping North Korea and living underground in China by photojournalist Soon-ho Choi; and artifacts from North Korea such as textbooks, cigarettes, and makeup.

Chunhyok Kang with his drawings


Special events were held nearly every day during the week of exhibition. Starting with a lively opening reception on the first day, NKHR hosted a series of insightful discussions with North Korean resettlers, an artist-led gallery tour, and live music. A young North Korean writer, Hyuk Kim, gave a special talk about his experiences wandering North Korea as a “kkotjebi” (homeless child) and his resettlement in South Korea, and Sungju Lee led a discussion on North Korean refugees and their human right situation. In a special performance, Chunhyok Kang, one of the North Korean artists featured in the exhibit, gave a hip hop performance with his friends while he also drew live in front of a large audience.


Opening reception


Chunhyok Kang drawing and Harold Han performing live


Sungju Lee speaking about North Korean refugees 


Both South Koreans and foreigners alike showed great interest in Beyond the Panopticon and the human rights of North Korean refugees. Visitors consistently expressed their concern for the treatment of refugees, particularly in China. 


NKHR hopes Beyond the Panopticon helped impart the significance of advocating for improved conditions for North Korean refugees to members of the South Korean public and the international community. NKHR extends its deepest gratitude to everyone who made Beyond the Panopticon possible.


More photos available on Facebook.