Seeing Seoul through street art
Street Art in South Korea is certainly not a “revolution of signs” as the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once characterized the cryptic lettering (tags, writing) at the beginning of the graffiti culture. But there is a small, lively and innovative cultural scene in Seoul.
Some of the murals are modern-time testimonies. They are, albeit with a quiet tone, political statements, pointed observations of recent social circumstances or expressions of an attitude to life.
Korea’s school system is exemplary, and the high results of South Korean children in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment study seem to confirm the effectiveness of the education system.
Education is highly valued in a Confucian society such as Korea’s. Making it to a top university is the goal of most Korean children from a very young age. Ambitious parents dig deep into their pockets to engage tutors for extra lessons. Accordingly, private acadamies are a multi-billion-dollar industry.
The flip side of this obsession with the educational process is the cause of an enormous amount of work stress, test anxiety and competitiveness. After accidents, suicide is the most common cause of death among teenagers in South Korea.
Questioning nuclear power
Despite the catastrophe at a Japanese nuclear power station in Fukushima, Korea holds tight to its ambitious nuclear program. Nuclear power is seen by the Seoul government as an engine of economic growth and the only practical way to attain energy independence. But since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, a growing number of Koreans are questioning their government’s commitment to nuclear energy. More and more people fear similar accidents will occur in their homeland.
This mutation of a radioactively contaminated rabbit illustrates this new fear.
At least 21 South Korean reactors are operated in four nuclear power plants, accounting for 30 percent of the electricity needs of the country.
Never thin enough
“What do we long for when we see beauty? To be beautiful. We think much happiness must be connected with it. But that is an error.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
Firm, young, tall, double eyelids, “s-line” and above all – slim. That is just part of the formula for female beauty in Korea, which is home to the highest number of plastic surgeries in the world.
This adds to the tremendous amount of pressure that is already on the shoulders of young women. The media, and in fact almost every part of Korean society, only propagates the formula.
There’s only one problem: Even with the help of tens of millions of won, this definition of beauty is unattainable for almost all women.
The orientation of these standards leads to excessive demands on one’s appearance. The successful design of the body becomes an obsession. “Thin” is never “thin enough.”
This striking wall painting combines the concepts oil and suicide. This allows room for various interpretations, but the essence of the message is that all that greed for fossil fuels — which is synonymous with greed for money and power — ends in self-destruction.
This could be a reaction to any number of environmental disasters, even the December 2007 oil spill off the West Sea coast of Taean County. Or it might be a reaction to the dependance of economies on oil, particularly Korea, which relies on foreign countries for all of its oil imports.
Ball and chain
When one’s academic studies have finally come to an end and the process of education is crowned with a university degree, it is natural to question whether or not you have achieved what you had in mind. This mural suggests that, despite feelings of success and freedom, graduates are still in chains.
The high degree of academization in Korea has its price. It is not easy for new graduates to find adequate work and so many of them are working in low-paid jobs or jump from internship to internship in order to find a connection to the labor market.
The most recent employment figures show that the unemployment rate for those in their 20s and 30s is 8 percent, almost three times the overall unemployment rate of 3.2 percent.