This month saw celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the opening up of the Berlin Wall which since 1961 had split Berlin and divided families and friends. Within a year of opening, demolition of the wall was underway and East and West Germany were reunited.
At the end of the Second World War, as part of the Japanese surrender, Korea was split in two along the 38th Parallel and in 1953 as part of the ceasefire agreement of the Korea War the immense Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) was created – a four kilometre wide, 248km long corridor separating North and South Korea which bristles with military installations and fortifications as the two countries, despite occasional political moves to try and improve relations, remain firmly in their different worlds. The Berlin Wall only existed for 28 years; the DMZ has been there for over 60 years. As time moves on memories of a world before the DMZ and of the previously-unified Korea fade and disappear.
‘Negotiating Borders’ at the Korean Cultural Centre in London starts with the embrace of two lovers at a barbed wire fence in Joung-Ki Min’s ‘Embrace’ painted in 1981 alongside his 2019 landscape of the DMZ which has now become normalised in the life of Korea’s citizens, north and south. Thereafter is an artistic, military and historical commentary on the DMZ, its meanings and representations to different artists including Seung Woo Back, Jung Heun Kim, Minouk Lim and NOH Suntang, along with military archive photographs and, as a complete contrast, the DMZ Botanical Garden with images of the wild plants that are flourishing free in this neglected environment.
What should be done when some day (hopefully) the DMZ is dismantled? Imaginative ideas are displayed by Seung H-Sang, Nam June Paik, Paul Virilio, Lebbeus Woods, Lee Bul, Mo Bahc and Kyong Park for sensitive and sustainable future use of the 4 km wide stretch of land, the bunkers, fences and military buildings when the day comes that it is removed.