Yongsan-based foreign artists celebrate ‘Joyous Itaewon’

The Yongsan Spring International Art Exhibition invited 77 visual artists, including 32 foreign residents of Korea, to display their works for “Joyous Itaewon 2023,” which officially opened for public viewing on May 8 and was held until May 12 at Yongsan Art Hall. The exhibition features artworks from a diverse group of international artists, who are finally able to exhibit in person after years of online-only spaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twice a year the Yongsan Fine Arts Association invites foreign artists, in the spirit of solidarity and co-existence “to arrange a place of sharing where one can experience culture and art from many different countries.

This year, organizers decided that in light of the tragic event that has held a dark cloud over Itaewon for the last six months, they would make the theme “Joyous Itaewon.”

For over six years, the Yongsan Fine Arts Association has been helping foreign artists to exhibit their work in Seoul.

James Beckwith, the association’s foreign president, has been at the forefront of this effort, dedicating his time and energy to ensure that every artist gets a chance to showcase their talent. Beckwith himself is an established studio artist who manages a studio located in Itaewon, a space that he quite often shares with emerging artists for their various needs. Beckwith has been the foreign president of the Yongsan Fine Arts Association for six years, during which time he has helped hundreds of foreign artists exhibit their art for the first time.

James Beckwith, foreign president of Yongsan Fine Arts Association, speaks at the Yongsan Spring International Art held at Yongsan Art Hall from May 8 to 12. / Courtesy of Bereket Alemayehu.

He emphasized the importance of providing a platform for artists who may not normally have the opportunity to present their work: “I want to provide a platform where artists that may not normally have the opportunity to present can come and proudly show their artworks and get the recognition they greatly deserve.”

For Swiss-born visual and digital artist Laura P. Acosta, who has lived in Seoul for over eight years and currently works at the Swiss Embassy, this was the first-ever group exhibit she has participated in. She said that it was exciting getting this opportunity to showcase her artwork with Korean and foreign artists as well as for networking. She said she didn’t want to miss the opening event and dinner party in order to connect with fellow artists. Acosta’s artwork depicts a hanbok-dressed girl dancing in the woods.

Philippine artists Sigay Sanchez and Zion Gamez felt the same, saying it was an unforgettable encouraging moment having their art displayed for a wider audience for the first time.

Filipina artist Sigay Sanchez, right, poses with a guest in front of her painting at the Yongsan Spring International Art held at Yongsan Art Hall from May 8 to 12. / Courtesy of Bereket Alemayehu.

Artists were representing every continent of the globe, from countries such as Tunisia, Brazil, Colombia, and Australia.

John Shrader, an American painter, has made use of this platform several times over the last nine years of his creative career. To him, the best part of it is getting to know other artists in the Yongsan area. Shrader is editor-in-chief for [b]racket magazine, a free art magazine distributed in Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon, Busan, and Seoul since 2012.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic for the last few years, the Yongsan Fine Arts Association and Beckwith remain committed to motivating artists through exhibiting their art, most of which is created in the Korean environment inspired by local cultures, natural and manmade landscapes, modern life and urban settings.

“We had to adapt to the pandemic, and we had to be creative to ensure that the artists still had a platform to showcase their works,” Beckwith said. “It was challenging, but we managed to do two years of online exhibitions, and we’re happy to be able to stay relevant.”

Regarding the exhibition’s theme, Beckwith emphasized that it was meant to help provide a safe space for foreign artists to share their art without fear of being misjudged. “We want to celebrate the diversity of the artworks and the artists themselves,” he said.

Beckwith also spoke highly of the Itaewon neighborhood where the exhibition is taking place. “Itaewon has gone through so many hard times, but no matter what, it’s the people that make Itaewon great,” he said. “Their artworks are a beacon of beauty that this neighborhood represents.”

People look around at the Yongsan Spring International Art held in Yongsan Art Hall from May 8 to 12. / Courtesy of Bereket Alemayehu.

The Yongsan Spring International Art Exhibition is a celebration of international art, culture, and diversity. With the support, inspiration, leadership and dedication of well-established foreign artists in Korea, the Yongsan Fine Arts Association will continue to provide a platform for artists to showcase their talents for years to come.

The article first came out in: https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2023/05/113_350846.html


Bereket Alemayehu