Artist action Majjang fights back

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Majjang was started to use art to communicate the current situation with citizens through free artistic expression. The group deals not simply with the scandal around Choi Soon-sil but also with President Park’s blacklisting of artists. The group is made up of fifty members. On Nov. 21, Hwang Jeongeun interviewed Goo Yeonghoe, a choreographer and a founder of Artist Action Group “Majjang,” to hear about their work. [In the “street satirical cartoon” two actors play roles Choi Soon-sil and the prosecution to criticize their actions. (Photo by Majjang)]

Different groups are doing various activities to demand President Park’s resignation. What kind of activities is the Action Group “Majjang” doing and what is its direction? We participate in the rallies and also discuss with artists what actions to do. Also each artist creates art in different fields and shares and spreads them. We plan what we can do with people and discuss how to create art. Since our work is done not on stage or enclosed spaces but on the streets and in the candlelight rallies, mobility and direct communication with citizens is very important. One of the things we came up with was “street satirical cartoon”. Actors act out a scene to criticize the current state of affairs. In addition to that, artists in different fields work together to create and share art.

Who are the artists involved in the campaigns and what has been people’s reaction to the campaign? Our members are from every field of art: art planners, art producer, play director, play and movie actor and actress, video maker, dancer, painter, singer, musician, etc. We did street satirical cartoon and busking in the last four mass candlelight rallies. The painters drew pictures and shared them online and we also posted a dance video that we created called “Haya(resignation) movement.” The reactions have been different case by case. People like street satirical cartoon and Haya movement because they were on the media so they recognize them. People see our street performances and donate to support our actions. In particular, many people are drawn to our Choi Soon-sil look alike. A lot of people are shocked by the resemblance between the actress and Choi, but in reality the resemblance is created through acting and and makeup.

These days, people from all levels of society are expressing just how much they want president Park’s resignation and their desire for direct, and not institution, democracy. That is why artists’ work can be helpful to the citizens. The strength of art is to express and visualize a subject more clearly and evoke emotions from people. Therefore, we think about our subject and how we are going to express it, then we refine it so that it has appropriate and has mass appeal.

Can you share the most impressive or memorable episodes during your campaign? What are your plans for the coming days? We were performing the street satirical cartoon. Among the audience, there was a 70-year-old man and we asked him what inspired him to come out. He replied, “I do not think this kind of chance will come again in my lifetime. I think this is the last thing that I can do for my grandchildren.” Then, he took a picture with us. People can also write their messages in bubbles. Many people liked expressing their opinions, and parents actively encouraged their children to also do so. To them, this was a great education on democracy. There was one funny episode where we had to remind some angry people that our Choi look-alike was simply an actress..    

In the coming rally on November 26th, we are planning to perform a flashmob with a thousand artists and citizens demanding the president’s resignation. Moreover, we are planning a mobile artist team with college students moving from place to place. There will be lots of people at the rally, and sometimes some people that are far from the main stage can’t see or hear. We are going to seek out those places to share our songs, dance, and movements. We are trying to create artwork to give citizens strength on the spot and during the march.

On October, there was shocking news that 9,743 artists were blacklisted by the government. In response, many artists pointed out that a lot of corruption related to Choi-gate took place in the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism so they are demanding both the president’s resignation and punishment for those responsible. How has the situation for artists changed under the Park administration and how should it be changed? There were no stages for artists to perform on in 2014 after the Sewol Ferry sank. The whole country was in grief and it was hard to be on the stage without talking about the sorrow. So, a lot of performance artists had financial difficulty. The Park administration has always talked about reviving the economy through the creative economy, but after President Park the economy actually got worse and in particular it affected artists the most. Especially hit hard were artists that are not parts of institutions such as universities and national or city art organizations. The average annual income for artists is two million won (about 2,000 dollars).

Worse, there was great censorship on the content of art under Park administration. In other words, artists couldn’t receive financial support if they pointed out the government’s problems. It had gotten worse than before. For example, CJ Entertainment, a large company, invested in the film “The Lawyer” (about President Roh Moo-hyun’s story fighting the government’s oppression of people during the dictatorship). As a result, CJ Entertainment was suppressed, and artists working for the company were dealt a heavy blow. Another example is “Spirits’ Homecoming” which is about the girls who were taken by Japanese soldiers as sexual slaves. No production or distribution company was willing to invest in the film, so it took 11 years and crowdfunding by ordinary people in order to produce the film. Furthermore, there have been cases where performances won competitions but could not be performed because it directly satirized the government’s wrongdoings. The government pressured the artist to stop the performance. These cases have been revealed and some artists are preparing legal action against the government.

We are pursuing alternative art, not the current art policies. In Korea, only people who have money or are born into rich families can learn and do art. Alternative art is about everyone being able to learn, create, and enjoy art. We also pursue art that resides among the people and not in museums. We reject art that is removed from people. Art is means to communicate with people.

Is there anything you would like to request to artists abroad as regards the current situation in Korea? I have heard that there is a new way of education toward local culture and cultural education in Venezuela. Currently, the Korean wave[ref] Korean wave refers to the rising popularity of Korean music, film, and TV shows around the world.[/ref] is on the rise but this type of cultural exchange is simply for commercial purpose. I would like a different type of exchange with artists around the world about how art is valued and developed in their countries.

by Hwang Jeongeun (General Secretary, ISC)