In northeast Seoul there is a small village that sits on the edge of Naksan Park. In the early 2000s, it was considered an unattractive slum, and it was slated for demolition. However, in 2006, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism intervened by inviting artists to create murals and other artworks all throughout the village. Seemingly overnight, the area was revitalized, and the Ihwa Mural Village became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Seoul.
Naturally, I was very intrigued by the story of Ihwa. A village that was saved by art? I definitely wanted to see that. And I did. And it was beautiful. But I will also admit to feeling a bit out of place as I wandered through Ihwa’s streets. This village is still very much a residential neighbourhood, and a part of me felt like I was intruding on people’s private lives. I later learned that residents of the village, mostly senior citizens, were not consulted about the plan for the murals, and they were very unhappy when hordes of tourists descended onto their streets for photoshoots. In fact, some of the most famous murals have since been painted over by residents in an act of protest against all the disrespectful gawkers.
I made sure to be as unobtrusive as possible during my visit. I didn’t make any noise, I stuck to the road, and I didn’t leave any garbage behind. And I did enjoy seeing the artwork. But honestly, knowing what I know now, I’m not sure I’d make the trip again. I hope that as tourism continues to return post-pandemic, the Ihwa Mural Village finds a way to properly deal with the crowds. On the day I visited, it was very quiet and peaceful. I hope it stays like that.
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!