Exhibition marks Korea-Vietnam relations

Vietnamese Ambassador to Korea Nguyen Vu Tu, second from right, poses at the Korea Foundation Gallery in Seoul on Aug. 16. /Courtesy of Korea Foundation

By Rachel Lee

The Korea Foundation (KF) is commemorating the 25th anniversary of Korea-Vietnam diplomatic relations with an exhibition of the work of the countries’ young artists.

The works highlight changes the two societies have gone through over the past 30 years.

Thirteen artists are represented in the “Salt of Jungle” exhibition that will run until Oct. 18 at the KF in Seoul. The work is in various forms, including videos, drawings and installations.

“The majority of Vietnamese artists here represent the ‘post-Doi Moi’ generation that grew up after the 1986 economic reform,” the KF said.

It said the Korean artists were of a similar generation and had experienced or witnessed the country’s economic development and democratization.

At a press briefing at the gallery on Aug. 16, Vietnamese Ambassador to Korea Nguyen Vu Tu said that despite a relatively short period since the two nations established diplomatic relations, significant achievements had been made.

Korea is the major investor in Vietnam and in the first half of 2017, Korea became Vietnam’s second-largest trade partner, the diplomat said.

People-to-people exchange was also rising, as were cultural exchanges, the ambassador said.

In their works, the artists lament the loss of nature, myths, traditions and ethnic minorities due to rapid industrialization and urbanization. The works also show these changes in everyday life in the midst of urbanization, industrialization and migration.

“Individual Vietnamese artists have been introduced to Korea previously,” the KF said. “However, these exhibitions rarely gave an opportunity to present their work in a spectrum and seldom focused on the connections with Korean artists.”

“It is in this context that the current exhibition endeavors to facilitate further dialogue on the complex, entangled histories of Korea and Vietnam.”

The orgnization said the title “Salt of the Jungle” is from the novel by Vietnamese writer Nguyen Huy Thiep, referring to a flower that blossoms in the jungle only once in 30 years.

It is said to bring peace and prosperity to those that encounter it. In the novel, an elderly man who had been hunting a male monkey is shocked to see a distressed female monkey chase after her injured mate, the KF said.

“The man, naked as a beast in the humid jungle, curses as he finally gives up. It is in this moment that he sees the flower.”

While it is unclear whether this symbolizes a painful revelation for humans — a halt in the course of the ruthless destruction of nature and lives — or conversely, a recognition of beastly human nature that continues to mistake destruction for signs of prosperity, it is the story’s ability to confront this ambivalence that won its acclaim as the most poignant metaphor of the post-Doi Moi reality in Vietnam, the KF said.

The KF was founded in 1992 for international exchange and public diplomacy initiatives.

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