Song Byeok at Goat Farm & Emory

The Goat Farm Arts Center presents “Song Byeok: Departure.” Brought to Atlanta by his representatives Gregory Pence and Mike Lee, world renowned Korean contemporary artist and satirist Song Byeok will present twenty acrylic paintings, including six pieces not yet seen by the public, at The Goat Farm Arts Center, February 17-26, 2012.

Before escaping North Korea, Song considered his propaganda work for Kim Jong il an “infinite honor.”

“How could I, just a commoner, meet Kim Jong-il? He is the sun,” the artist recalls. His paintings – rife with anti-imperialist slogans and socialist realist imagery – reflected a limited worldview perpetuated by the hermit state. Song’s faith in the “Dear Leader” was eventually betrayed in the 1990s, however, when famine struck and the regime responded by continuing to allocate resources predominantly to cadre members, party elites, and the military. Among the millions of North Koreans who perished during this period – dubbed “The Arduous March” by Kim Jong il – were Song’s mother and sister. His father meanwhile drowned during an attempt to cross the Tumen River to secure food in China, and Song himself was later captured, brutalized, and forced into hard labor at a prison camp.

Now a free citizen living in democratic South Korea, Song no longer has to represent the mythical reality once dictated to him by North Korea’s propaganda machine. He has taken full advantage of his artistic freedom by celebrating democratic ideals in paintings that honor the North Korean people and satirize Kim Jong il, now deceased, by masterfully blending iconic imagery from Eastern and Western cultures, Byeok’s expanded visual vocabulary and social commentary speaks to the fundamental human need for freedom and hope for reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. “It is time to reform and open North Korea, so that North Koreans can see what the real world is,” says Song. “Freedom of speech has nothing to do with North Korea. Here in South Korea, people can draw what they want. So every painting reflects the artist’s distinctive personality.”

“The more eyeballs we can get to see Song Byeok’s works of art, the better,” Greg Pence, a former Fulbright researcher of Korean nationalism and Song’s protege, explains. “His art understandably flows from a very raw and wounded place that runs contrary to his usual soft-spoken and cheerful disposition. Song retains his sense of optimism, knowing one day North Koreans will learn the truth about the outside world.”

“North Korea has the ‘mother’ of all personality cults,” says Goat Farm owner Anthony Harper. “Kim Jong-il was the central figure behind a brand of race-based nationalism that survives off of repression, the control of information, and a massive untruth. Song’s art offers a rare chance to see a piece of the truth that would normally carry a hefty penalty for disloyalty. He’s a talented artist. If Song is bold enough to create the work then others should be willing to give it a public platform. I hope this U.S. exhibition has legitimizing effects. If so, Song’s voice will become more pervasive.”

“Song Byeok: Departure” is the artist’s first international exhibition, and his first trip to the United States. He will lecture about his life and art at a number of Georgia’s prestigious institutions, including Emory University on Tuesday, February 21.

An auction will be held at 10 p.m. during the opening reception. All proceeds will go towards Dari Community (우리집), a North Korean refugee center in Ansan, ROK.

Goat Farm Arts Center
1200 Foster St.
Atlanta, GA 30318


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