Jinhyun Cha is an artist working in documentary photography that explores Korea’s modern and contemporary history and the identity of the division of Korea between South and North Korea. His first project, the Portraits of 108, was on a group of women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army. After this work, he is working on reinterpreting the significance of the division that came after the Korean War in the current context. The war of ideologies that took so many people’s lives, and the irony and black comedy that sticks its head out so casually in the aftermath of this ‘drawing of borders’ — this is what he tries to visualize in a serious way. He wants his works to create a space in which we might realize the mistakes and errors that have been made, reflect on them, acknowledge them and seek to right the wrongs. His practice allows us to face and correct ‘the unfamiliar history that we are familiar with’.With the Portraits of 108, he won the grand prize in the first Sangsang-madang Korean Photographer’s Fellowship sponsored by KT&G in 2008, and won the Asian Pioneer Photographer Award in the 6th Dali International Photo Festival in China 2015. In 2016, he was chosen as a finalist in Daegu Photography Biennale in Korea. His work, the Portraits of 108, is selected to the FotoFest 2018 Biennial ‘Discoveries of the Meeting Place’ exhibition in Houston, USA.
Cha (b.1973) earned a MFA degree in photography from Kyung-sung University, and completed his doctoral course at Hong-ik University. He lives and works in South Korea.
Two soldiers standing inside and outside, 2016
The Korean War Armistice Agreement, 2015
Border line between the two countries, 2015
Post – Border Line
A human history is a cycle of creation, development, and extinction of physical and philosophical products accompanied by wars. Accordingly, wars begin from human’s survival instincts to fight for the fundamentals of life and develop into invasion set off by individual and group interests; after the rise of capitalism, it expanded to the issues of distribution of wealth, governmental power, and the battles of hegemony which resulted in massacre and carnage.
Of course, we must not overlook idolatry wars as well as culture wars. At this point, I’m trying to reinterpret the true identity of Korea, the world’s only divided nation, and the boundaries of ideologies through my work. I hope to reveal how the legacy deviated form the war became mystified and how the war products turned into cultural or political capitals. I want my work to show how so many different groups have coexisted under the absurd system that demands self-sacrifice for the greater good, such as those who lost the loved ones during the war, dispersed families due to the truce, as well as North Korean refugees.
The excessive expansion of capitalism spoiled the purity of the land. The boarder areas and the DMZ already degraded to tourist destinations, and the promotional slogans for peace, liberty, or reunification turned into well-displayed products in a showcase. Furthermore, a mass of scrap metal once used in wars became part of theme parks. Just like this, capitalism changes the bitter memories of the war into mere market products all at once. The recent incidents in Korea, like the Cheonan Navy Ship sinking, the Yeonpyeong attack or North Korea’s nuclear problem, suggest that the wars are not over yet. Despite such insecurity and distress, the logic of capitalism constantly encourages consumption, and even the government participates in this phenomenon.
Korea is a nation that most quickly overcame the aftermath of the civil war, and guarantees liberty and equality based on democracy; however, I’d like to speak about the other side of this country as revealing immanent ongoing wars and how they have been consumed and propagandized. We are living in the world where innocent war victims are treated like extras in a movie. As standing on the 155 miles long boarder of this only divided nation, I hope to show the calamity caused by ideology conflicts and boundaries between remembrance and forgetfulness.
Soldier lowering head in front of the torpedoed warship, Cheonan. 2013
Car entering restricted area for civilians, 2014
Japanese cranes flying over the Labor Party Building, 2014
Two flagpoles and a soldier, 2015
Permanent Flame, 2015
Hats of North Korean soldiers, 2014
Woljeongri Station, 2013
Scenery picture and the landscape outside the window, 2013
Soldiers listening to an explanation about the 3th underground tunnel, 2015
Soldier standing watch, 2015
Woman looking at North Korea, 2013
Two targets, 2017
Woman looking at Freedom Bridge, 2014
The magnolia blooming in the Peace Park, 2015
Flowers and a tombstone, 2016
Woman in front of “Reunification”, 2013
To view more of Jinhyun Cha’s work please visit his website.