Best of Blacklist? (Attendum to “Best of Korean Theatre 2016”)

Now the (lunar) year is almost over… I did not mention an important aspect when writing about last years “Best 3” and “Best 7”: The stand they represent against politically motivated censorship, which has been a major issue during the last two years.


In the light of events, it is notable that Kunhyung Park’s All the Soldiers are Pathetic (박근형, 모든 군인은 불쌍하다) appears on both lists, as this is the production that triggered the censorship (검열) scandal in that extended to the world of traditional music and was rekindled by the leaking of the names of almost 10,000 artists blacklisted by official authorities in October 2016.

Kunhyung Park seems to have evoked the wrath of cultural politics with his production of The Frogs in 2013 (I saw the production back then, unfortunately the only piece of the National Theater Company’s Aristophanes-trio). The production features an obvious satirical depiction of former dictator Park Chung-hee and, more importantly, his daughter and (back then) ruling president Park Geun-hye. (As some English-language news-outlets were quick to remark, despite their similar common surname, director Park and president Park are not related – also notable is the consistens misspelling of the play’s title as Frog.)

Arguably as a result of his open criticism of the two Parks, funding for his next piece (All the Soldiers) was denied or, as testimonies suggest, Park was pressured into revoking his application for funding. Subsequently, an engagement for directing a piece at the National Gugak Center (국립국악원) was cancelled in a similar manner in October 2015. (The gugak-magazine Lara provides a good overview in English.)

To no one’s surprise, Park’s name featured prominently on the blacklist leaked in 2016 (a partial list with about 6,000 names is available via Hankyoreh). Another piece (or rather a site-specific performance festival), the “Camino de Ansan 2016” that is conceptualized as a memory-walk for the victims of the Sewol ferry-disaster (potentially critical with regard to the government’s reactions, is also awarded. The selection shows that theatre critics (who also did rallies and public statements when the issues were hot) do not bow to cultural – and in extension – national politics.

Most recently, South Korea’s culture minister Cho Yoon-sun has been arrested in relation to the blacklist. Facing censorship, theatremakers keep on making theatre, so much is clear. Last fall, a Tumblbug-crowdfunding campaign by a cooperation of various ensembles under the title “Project for Right” (권리장전) was successful (the project is also mentioned in a review of 2016 by Jiyoung Jang, translated by Walter Byongsok Chon, via Theatre Times, the expanded Korean original is available online, too, in the webzine Must by Chungmu Art Center). At Gwanghwamun in central Seoul, where theatre is presented in a tent, blacklisted artists also protested with black plastic bags (images via Hankyoreh) It remains open, though, how the art world at large will deal with a situation where those who followed politically motivated directives still remain in numerous positions of power.

Happy New Year!

PS: A good (English) summary of the situation as of last November, with some images of protests in front of the Korean Cultural Center in London, is available on London Korean Links

– 27 Jan. 2017 (金)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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