Exhibition <Arirang in Germany, Asking in 45 Years>
Park Woo-Jin (Weekly Korea Reporter, 2010)
The <Arirang in Germany, Asking in 45 Years> exhibition, which will be held from the 16th, concludes the welfare project for miners dispatched to Germany, which was carried out until last year. Materials documenting life in the 1960s and 1970s and art works about the miners sent to Germany are exhibited, and <White Paper on Miners Dispatched from Germany 2009> and a documentary film made as part of a welfare project are released.
However, this is not a place to celebrate the achievements of the welfare project for miners sent to Germany. Rather, it is the true intention to point out and inform about the business background and progress process.
The key point is that the welfare project for miners sent to Germany is not a government-led project. Most of the financial resources are reserves that should have already been paid to the miners dispatched to Germany. The German government paid the Korean government in exchange for manpower dispatch, but it is a pension of 1.8 billion won that was not returned to the parties concerned. The main body of the project is the General Association of Korean Miners Dispatched to Germany, an organization that combines the Korean Residency Glückauf Association in Germany and the Korean Association of Korean Miners in Korea.
As one Korean miner said, it is their reality that they have to prove their history with the blood and sweat of their colleagues. Korean society has always been indifferent. Seong Gyu-hwan, chairman of Glückauf, a Korean residing in Germany that published <45 Years History of Miners Dispatched to Germany>, said, “Sadly at the reality that no one remembers, senior citizens in their 70s stepped forward to leave a record for themselves.”
The reason Park Kyong Ju of Salad TV planned the exhibition was because she felt bitter about this tragedy. “The work of arranging history also has the meaning of objectification and evaluation, but the parties cannot do that.”
Park Kyong Ju, who is also an artist, reworked her 2000 work <Memories of Germany> for this exhibition. It is an installation work in which she reproduces a video in which she interviewed five miners who were dispatched to Germany while she was staying in Germany, and writes down the names of the forgotten miners in Germany on the wall. Through this work, Park Kyong Ju said, “I want to ask whether we have erased those who are still alive with vivid history from our memory storage warehouse in a hurry.“
Artist Park Chan-Kyung also participated. The contents of <People who went to Germany.>, a photo essay book published in 2003, featuring miners and nurses dispatched to Germany, will be exhibited. Artist Park Chan-Kyung said at the time, “I was surprised and even ashamed to learn that there was no proper book about miners and nurses sent to Germany while doing research for this work.”
The significance of re-examining the miners sent to Germany is to first of all evaluate and acknowledge their contribution to Korean modern history, but it does not stop there. This is because their personal history is the history of Korea. The existence and experience of the miners sent to Germany is a common lesson and asset of Korean society.
Artist Park Chan-Kyong points out, “Respect for Korean workers dispatched to Germany should not only be absorbed into the myth of Korea’s economic construction, but should also lead to a warning about our own memory loss, ignorance, and exclusive nationalism.” Transforming their own past into our progressive present is the true open end of the welfare project for miners sent to Germany.
The <German Arirang, Asked in 45 Years> exhibition runs until February 1 at the Kim Daljin Museum of Art, located in Changseong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul. From February 5th to 11th, it will be moved to the Korean Cultural Center, the Korean Miners’ Memorial Hall in Ruhr, Germany. On January 29th, the German Cultural Center in Korea will hold a seminar titled ‘Evaluation and Prospect of the History of Miners Dispatched to Germany’ (tentative title).
“Would the miners dispatched to Germany come out on their own?”
Salad TV CEO Park Kyong Ju
Miners dispatched to Germany are, for example, migrant workers dispatched abroad by the government. They would have lived like the migrants in Korean society today. Park Kyong Ju, CEO of Salad TV, an internet broadcasting based on multiculturalism, said, “The issue of the miners dispatched to Germany is also a matter of how Korea views and embraces the immigrant community in Korea.”
In your 2000 work <Memories of Germany>, what story did the miners you met in Germany most want to talk about?
It’s about homesickness. One of the things migrants can never say is “I will not return to my hometown.” Even if it is clear that you will not be able to go back to your hometown for the rest of your life. It is not just because of the longing for the hometown, but it means that the sense of isolation felt in the society that moved to that much is great. And the miners sent to Germany also expressed their feelings of disappointment at the Korean society that forgot them.
What was your most memorable story?
There was a person who had a liver transplant. He was in his mid-60s, and was unable to return to his hometown due to illness. Many of the miners dispatched to Germany lost their health due to the aftereffects of working in the mines. It suffers from pneumoconiosis and various complications. At the time, it was because he overworked his body, such as working night shifts to earn even a little bit of money.
How do you evaluate the welfare project for miners sent to Germany?
It is bittersweet that Korean society could not solve the problem and the miners sent to Germany had no choice but to do it themselves. Isn’t it inevitable that there is a lack of a third person’s perspective that can look at history objectively. Also, it’s a pity that it ends with this one-off cleanup. If the foundation had been established with project funds, it would have been able to carry out follow-up projects steadily in the future.
Didn’t there be a voice among the miners dispatched to Germany to establish a foundation?
I understand that they were not able to unite until recently due to circumstances. There would also be financial difficulties. The General Association was formed only last year. In other words, there was no central point to create the foundation. It’s a personal impression, but Koreans despatched to Germany and Germany is a little different from Koreans in other societies. It seems that there is a sense of victimization that has been forgotten by the people. Researchers who approach with interest are also wary. This makes it difficult to illuminate them.
(Ⓒweekly Korea, 2010)
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