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The Past and Present of Cultural Censorship in South Korea: Minjung Art During and After the Gwangju Uprising Público

The Gwangju Uprising provided pivotal momentum for South Korea’s path toward democracy and was assisted by the artwork by Minjung artists. However, the state’s continuous censorship of democratic art ironically contradicts with the principles that Gwangju upholds, generating the question: how does the censorship of democratic artists during and after the Gwangju Democratic Uprising affect artistic political engagement and reflect upon South Korea’s democracy? I argue that censorship of Minjung art is hypocritical in nature by providing key characteristics of democracy the South Korean state fails to meet. Minjung art intends to push for political change and has roots in the Gwangju Uprising, an event that was the catalyst in creating a democratic state, yet the state continues to suppress a democratic freedom of expression. Looking to dissolve the line between activism and art, Korean Minjung artists have been producing content criticizing the state from the 1980s to modern day despite repression from the state. Past studies and first-person accounts on Gwangju have focused separately on authoritarian censorship on art or on modern cultural censorship. This paper seeks to bridge this gap and identify the parallels between artistic censorship during South Korea’s dictatorships and during its democracy to identify the hypocrisy of the state regarding art production and censorship.

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