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Negotiating Urban Identities: Spectacles and Conflicts in the 1995 Gwangju Biennale

Yuri Chang 1

1Binghamton University

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The 1995 Gwangju Biennale was a mega-scale international art show, planned as one of the civilian government’s commemoration projects of the May 18th Gwangju democratization movement in 1980. The main exhibition of the biennale, “Beyond the Borders,” expanded the meaning of the pro-democracy movement’s resistant spirit to the artistic progress, which overcome borders of nations, races, ideologies and religions. The event demonstrated the ambition to construct the Gwangju image as not only the city of democracy but also the world-leading cultural arena. Some members of the Minjung art group and the Gwangju local artists, however, asserted that the Biennale failed to represent Gwangju because it mostly celebrated the globalized cultures of the world, while lacking the locality of the city. During the Biennale period, they held a separate event named The 1995 Gwangju Unification Art Festival at Mangwol Cemetery as a way of opposing the state-sponsored biennale and restoring May 18th spirit as the core identity of the city. Such disparity between the state-run biennale and the unofficial art festival shows the conflicting urban identities of the new Gwangju - a city of art versus a mecca of democracy. The conflict between the Biennale and the local art group can be read as a struggle on choosing what should be the collective memories of Gwangju and what kind of aesthetics can describe image of Gwangju. In addition, this controversy illustrates the diverse interest groups’ discussions on who can create the common memory and the frame of history of Gwangju.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.