Today is the last day of this year’s challenge of The Daily Hart. I have no idea how that happened, but here we are. And I think it’s fitting that the last daily helping of this year’s challenge is connected to the first year’s challenge. Kind of a full circle moment. Because today’s daily helping is a painting titled Massacre in a Certain Village by Choi Jae-Young. I saw this painting at the UNESCO May 18 Democratic Uprisings Archives in Gwangju, South Korea. A city I visited entirely because I watched A Taxi Driver two years ago and wanted to know more about the history behind it.
I could write a book about my time in Gwangju, not the least of which because it was hands down the friendliest city I visited in South Korea. I honestly lost track of how many people came up to talk to me, genuinely delighted that I had visited their city. And I quickly realized that Gwangju is not on most tourists’ itineraries, making me very much a novelty. But beyond the friendly locals, Gwangju has an important place in recent Korean history. It was here, in May of 1980, that the citizens of this city rose up in protest for the democratization of their country. And it was here where potentially thousands of people were gunned down by the Korean military. I say potentially because we don’t know the true death toll of the uprising. The official number is 165. But historians believe that number could be in the thousands.
I spent a whole day learning the history of the Gwangju Uprising. I visited the National Cemetery, the Jeonil Building 245, and Democracy Square. And I visited all four exhibition levels of the Archives, which is where I came across the painting above by Choi Jae-Young. His father witnessed the uprising in 1980 and took photos of the events. Choi Jae-Young found the photos after his father’s death and used them as inspiration for his own art.
I must admit that visiting Gwangju was a very profound experience for me. The more I travel, the more I realize just how much I have taken for granted in my life. And as I walked through the aisles of the national cemetery, looking at the photos on the graves, I wondered if I could ever be that brave. I have no idea, because I’ve never had to be. And that is an extraordinary privilege.
I will be back in a couple of days with my traditional summary of this year’s challenge. But for now, I’m happy to end on this piece. A piece of art that I never would have seen had it not been for The Daily Hart. A painting that had a very deep and visceral impact on me. And a reminder that tragedy can still beget beauty in the form of art. It is a small thing. But given all the tragedy in the world, I’ll take it.
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!