About a week and a half ago, I went to the DMZ International Film Festival. This is a film festival is held at the DMZ, or the Demilitarized Zone, a strip of land across the Korean peninsula that is a buffer zone between North and South Korea. I went to the opening ceremony of the film festival, which featured a documentary called I Am Sun Mu. This documentary features a North Korean defector artist, who uses the pseudonym "Sun Mu" to protect his family back in North Korea. Previously a North Korean propaganda artist, he now creates political pop art inspired his homeland, life, and his desire to see a free North Korea.
I Am Sun Mu is a brilliantly documentary. It chronicles Sun Mu's solo exhibition at the Yuan Art Center in Beijing. The exhibit was closed by the Chinese authorities last year on the opening day because of pressure from the North Korean government. For the same reason Sun Mu uses an pseudonym, his face is never shown directly on camera. Shadowing, hats, and other techniques are used to hide Sun Mu from the camera. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think about the potential danger of his work. In the documentary, he expressed his wishes to be open about his identity as Sun Mu. I think it would be difficult to not be able to tell even those closest to you about something as personal to you as your art. Some artists use pseudonyms as a personal choice, but it's something entirely different to use a pen name because your entire family may be thrown into a labor camp. Once the film is available online, I would highly recommend watching it.
I was able to attend the opening ceremony because the documentary was co-produced by Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). During my time in Korea, I'm working with LiNK to create a monitoring and evaluation system for the empowerment programs. Empowerment programs are a series of programs that invests in the long-term dreams, ambitions, and strengths of North Korean people.
I've actually known about since my sophomore year of high school. I was involved in Penn's chapter for LiNK my freshman year and have been going to their events. Because of my research topic, I decided to get more involved with LiNK but interning with them at their office here in South Korea.
The more and more I learn about LiNK, the more of an amazing organization I think it is. The people who work in the office are passionate. I think it says something significant that people stay after hours (while not getting paid) to finish up projects. When I heard about stories about missions to rescue defectors during my training, I was amazed at how courageous LiNK staffers are. For your job, you are risking your life on a daily basis to help people from a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world. Incredible. Sun Mu actually participates in one of LiNK's programs, which is how the idea for the film was born. Because of LiNK's connection to Sun Mu, I was able to meet and get an autograph from Sun Mu. For someone who risks his life regularly, he has a such a chill personality.
The festival was held at a place called Camp Greaves, an old American army base. I stayed overnight at the youth hostel at Camp Greaves to attend the DMZ tour the next morning. I slept on a wooden floor with 4 other people on each side of the room. Despite the backache I had the next day, it was a neat setup!
The next morning we got up early to go on a tour. We first went to an area that overlooks the North Korean city of Kaesong. It was crazy to think that I was less than a mile away from the hermit kingdom. Following the overlook, we went to the Third Tunnel of Aggression, one of four known tunnels that North Koreans dug to South Korea. I walked down the steep incline to the tunnel and walked towards the third barrier before the military demarcation line. Going through the tunnel, I wonder what happened on the North Korean side of the tunnel? Was it empty? Do military people go through the tunnel? Were everyday North Koreans allowed? Probably not. Being so close to North Korea made me feel sad. Here, I was on a tourist attraction and less than fifty feet away from me, people don't have access to basic human rights.
On a final note, check out the new #PeopleCan campaign that LiNK has launched. Learn more about how you can support the North Korean people and help solve a human rights crisis that affects over 24 million people.