Korea’s flag finally finds its way into art

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“Taeguk Playground” by Kim Soo-hie and Jang Ji-young at the Korea Art Festival last month. [KWON HYUK-JAE]
“Taeguk Playground” by Kim Soo-hie and Jang Ji-young at the Korea Art Festival last month. [KWON HYUK-JAE]
In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks in November, many Facebook users applied the French national flag colors over their profile pictures to express their condolences.

This was especially the case after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used the French flag filter on his profile picture.

The French Tricolor, whose colors each stand for freedom, equality and brotherhood, is often used in art and other cultural arenas. The same goes for the U.S. Stars and Stripes and the U.K. Union Jack.

In fact, fashion and home decor items with the Union Jack design can easily be found in Korea these days, even though the items don’t have any special ties to the United Kingdom.

But what about the Korean national flag, the Taegukgi?

Many would agree that the Taegukgi is not really Koreans’ favorite as a motif for artwork. In fact, few can name a famous artwork that features the national flag as a motif. The Taegukgi is also rarely seen on fashion and home decor items. Nor is it associated with an artsy or chic image, even in Korea.

Rather, for most Koreans, the Taegukgi only brings to mind the cleanly framed flags found hanging on the wall of a school classroom or raised on a flagstaff in front of an important government building – both of which are associated with heavy values like nation, nationalism, authority and the central government.

“Recover the Light” by Kim Joon-soo, Kim Sung-pil and Chun Jin-woo. [KWON HYUK-JAE]
“Recover the Light” by Kim Joon-soo, Kim Sung-pil and Chun Jin-woo. [KWON HYUK-JAE]
Serious symbol

That the Taegukgi is perceived this way in Korea is evident in popular culture, for instance in movies.

In the 2015 hit movie “Assassination,” which drew 12.7 million viewers, An Ok-yun (played by actress Jun Ji-hyun) and two other independence fighters take a group portrait in front of the flag before they leave for Seoul for their mission. In the scene, also used in the movie’s main poster, the Taegukgi stands for their yearning for independence.

In fact, the scene is based on historical fact. Before Korean independence fighters headed to execute their mission, they often took a photo in front of the national flag. It could very well be their last photo.

In another blockbuster epic film from last year, “Ode to My Father,” which attracted 14.3 million moviegoers, the Taegukgi symbolized the state. Even when main characters Deok-su (played by Hwang Jung-min) and Young-ja (Kim Yoon-jin) are fighting heatedly on the streets, when a siren goes off signaling the descent of the national flag, they stop fighting and salute for a while.

In the 1970s, the descent of the national flag took place either at 5 or 6 in the evening, and whenever that happened, a siren would sound and the national anthem would play while people saluted. Those who refused to do so were frowned upon, with some even suspected of being Communists.

Also during that time, before a movie was played at the theater, the national flag would be shown on the screen and the national anthem would be played. People who smoked or chewed gum or displayed other impolite behavior during that time were also frowned upon.

BY KIM HYUNG-EUN, KANG HYE-RAN
[hkim@joongang.co.kr]

  • Original Article: http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=3013762