N. Korean defector artists unite to raise profile in South

Kim Hyun

Trying to reach out the highly commercialized South Korean art world, a group of North Korean artists who defected to South Korea launched an organization Tuesday aimed at setting the stage for the communist state’s little-known style of artistry.

“However good they were in the North, they can’t show it alone in the South. They are alienated,” said Kim Yong-nam, the president of the association who was a composer in the North before he defected in 2002.

“They have no ground to stand on, so we decided to find it step-by-step,” he said.

The General Association of North Korean Defector Artists represents about 100 musicians, singers, choreographers and other artists from the North who have had few chances to share their artistic skills since they left home.

Many members were well-known in the North. Kim Young-sun, 71, one of the few surviving choreographers who trained under legendary dancer Choe Sung-hi, hoped she could transfer what she learned from her mentor to young dancers in the South. Choe, who created the first modern Korean-style choreography after studying abroad and is still revered in the South, died in a North Korean political prison camp in 1969.

“North Korean art should never be considered low, because it’s where master Choe took root,” Kim said, before presenting her artistic skills on stage at the launching ceremony at the Press Center in central Seoul.

“People in the South have such good bodies and good physical frames to dance. But they have never seen her. I hope Choe’s talent can be transferred to them and our young members (of the defectors’ association) so that they can know her not just in theory, but know her enough to take it to the world stage,” she said.

Reflecting the sense of alienation that many defectors here have, only a few South Koreans attended the launching ceremony, and legislative and government officials who were invited or sponsored the event did not appear. The participants hoped the launch could help them reach out to the unfamiliar South, even though future projects still need to be worked out.

“Today’s launch seems small now, but it will be recorded in history,” Hong Sun-gyong, a senior defector, said.

“Art in North Korea is used to maintain the dictatorial regime. In contrast, South Korean art, while it is called fine art, has been ailing with indescribable corruption and failed to contribute to the healthy development of South Korean society. We hope our organization will do something to break the dictatorship and develop healthy commercialism here,” he said.


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