Artistic Exploration of the DMZ in Korea

Sunjung Kim, the artistic director of the REAL DMZ PROJECT, shares her insights about the DMZ and DMZ exhibition

Sunjung KimREAL DMZ PROJECT

You have led public art and exhibition projects under the theme of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) for the past 10 years. Please tell us about the motivation and the driving force behind your great interest in the DMZ, your long-term research, and the exhibition projects devoted to the DMZ. 

The Real DMZ Project was planned as a 10-year long-term project from the beginning. While organizing the exhibition on the social role of art, ‘Platform Seoul’ for five years, 

489 Years 489 Years by Hayoun KwonREAL DMZ PROJECT

...from 2006 to 2010, I wondered how art could contribute. I started the Real DMZ Project to think about the political, social, psychological, and emotional impact of the DMZ, a relic of the Cold War, on Korean society. 

D.O.F. (Degrees of Freedom) D.O.F. (Degrees of Freedom) by Tomás SaracenoREAL DMZ PROJECT

Scholars and artists took time to research various influences, and created works of art together through the project. In particular, scholars and artists have continued researching and working while witnessing changes in inter-Korean relations during the past decade. Although many social changes have occurred over the past decade, inter-Korean relations do not seem to have developed much.

Eulji Theater Eulji Theater by Yeondoo JungREAL DMZ PROJECT

 What does the 2019 DMZ Exhibition, held at Culture Station Seoul 284, mean? 

The Real DMZ Project, presented within the Civilian Control Zone since 2012, created new artworks based on research on the DMZ, previous DMZ exhibitions, and collaboration with artists. The entire contents of this 8-year project were presented as an exhibition 'DMZ' at Culture Station Seoul 284 in 2019. 

Eulji Theater by Yeondoo JungREAL DMZ PROJECT

This exhibition focused on ideas about the DMZ presented over the years, and the exhibition scale was expanded. Without scratching the surface of the DMZ, works related to topics that were difficult to cover, such as photo work on the GP, life in the civilian control zone, and the slaughter of civilians during the war, were also presented at the exhibition.

DMZ DNA Sonification DMZ DNA Sonification by Artists: Byungjun Kwon, Dayoung Lee Planning & Design: Kwon Soyoung, Kwon Oheun Audio Engineer & Assistant: Kim Dabin, Oh Chaeryung, Lee Jiwon Supporters: Jeong Sooyoung, Choi Kyung, Choi Kyungsoo at Korea National Arboretum Program: Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies Sponsor: Seoul National University Institute for Peace and Unification StudiesREAL DMZ PROJECT

It was an opportunity to turn long-running research on the DMZ into artistic works and show them to the public. In this exhibition, a new artwork was introduced, which was created in 2017 using the wreckage of the GPs located in the DMZ in North and South Korea and native plants of the DMZ, in collaboration with the Korea National Arboretum and Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies.

DMZ DNA Sonification DMZ DNA Sonification (2019/2019) by Artists: Byungjun Kwon, Dayoung Lee Planning & Design: Kwon Soyoung, Kwon Oheun Audio Engineer & Assistant: Kim Dabin, Oh Chaeryung, Lee Jiwon Supporters: Jeong Sooyoung, Choi Kyung, Choi Kyungsoo at Korea National Arboretum Program: Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies Sponsor: Seoul National University Institute for Peace and Unification StudiesREAL DMZ PROJECT

In addition, a photo archive of the border area and an exhibition history archive of the DMZ after the Korean War were presented together. A weekly program was also held in which historians, sociologists, and environmentalists participated as speakers to present and discuss research on the DMZ. 

FREEDOM VILLAGE FREEDOM VILLAGE by MOON Kyungwon & JEON JoonhoREAL DMZ PROJECT

Why should we pay attention to the DMZ from the perspective of contemporary art? What is the potential of the DMZ from the perspective of contemporary art? 


The DMZ was formed under the international situation as Korea suffered colonial rule under Japanese imperialism, the Korean War, and the division of South and North Korea, so Koreans still do not have the right to make a decision about the DMZ. 

FREEDOM VILLAGE by MOON Kyungwon & JEON JoonhoREAL DMZ PROJECT

A North Korean fighter aircraft would need only about three minutes to reach Seoul. Fear of war or crisis makes it difficult for people to lead an ordinary life, but nowadays, Korean people almost forget about the 70-year ceasefire in Korea. The appearance of the DMZ in the media, such as news and movies, is as a staged image. 

Looking Through History (1990/1990) by Son Jang SupREAL DMZ PROJECT

The Real DMZ Project covered not only the political elements of DMZ but also the emotional, psychological, cultural, and economic influences of the DMZ through research by scholars, residencies, and exhibitions in villages near the site. 

The Real DMZ Project covered not only the political elements of DMZ but also the emotional, psychological, cultural, and economic influences of the DMZ through research by scholars, residencies, and exhibitions in villages near the site. 

Monument 300 – Chasing Watermarks (2019) by Minouk LimREAL DMZ PROJECT

 You are actively organizing exhibitions abroad as well as in Korea. What are the reactions and interest in the DMZ exhibition in other countries? 

Since 2015, the Real DMZ Project has been introduced overseas, starting with 'Cold War, Hot Peace' with the Slought Foundation, a non-profit organization of the University of Pennsylvania campus in the USA. Exhibitions were held in Aarhus in Denmark, Sao Paulo in Brazil, London, Paris, Krugersdorp in South Africa... 

Monument 300 – Chasing Watermarks by Minouk LimREAL DMZ PROJECT

... Sydney, Wolfsburg in Germany, etc., and the《Real DMZ Project》 went online during the COVID-19 era. Through overseas exhibitions, we ask questions about broader boundaries within the global society, such as 'borders' and 'movement,' beyond the physical and geographical boundaries of the division of South and North Korea and conduct multi-layered, in-depth research. And in the process, we will continuously create links and solidarity with other regions.

Nam-poongri Nam-Ildang Nam-GP (2019/2019) by Noh SuntagREAL DMZ PROJECT

What do you think is the role of art in thinking and imagining the DMZ? 

The DMZ is a region on the Korean peninsula that demarcates North Korea from South Korea. However, it is a place of oblivion, like an invisible ghost to Koreans as they live without recognizing it as a military boundary in their daily life. We are working to disclose this ghost-like boundary and get closer to the isolated and secretive North Korea using different ways... 

Untitled (DMZ Must Become A Tiger Farm) (1988) by Nam June PaikREAL DMZ PROJECT

...trying to make the DMZ a place of memory again through the Real DMZ Project, which provides an artistic approach to a peaceful future. It is difficult to predict when these artistic approaches, which long for and suggest an era of peace that has not yet arrived, will bear fruit. Moreover, it may end up being incomplete. However, artists' imagination of the future can always open up new possibilities.

Landscape 1993–2002 (2002/2002) by Park SejinREAL DMZ PROJECT

What does the DMZ mean to you, Sunjung?

Families that had been separated due to the division of South and North Korea during the Korean War have not been able to reunite for more than 70 years. When I was young, my parents told me my grandfather was abducted by North Korea, so I hoped that inter-Korean relations would improve so that people from both sides could visit each other.

Embrace (1981) by Min Joung-KiREAL DMZ PROJECT

The DMZ, the border between South and North Korea, is currently an armed space filled only with soldiers, but I hope it will become a true demilitarized zone. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Korea's Demilitarized Zone
Explore the DMZ through the lens of history, nature, and art in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice
View theme
Google apps