Jul 21, 2009

Transcription : Jun Yong-Bok Sonsen-nim's Lecture @ Gajoen

Jun Yong-Bok Sonsen-nim

The New Korean Culture Center

Jun Yong-Bok Sonsen-nim's work "Onma"
(photo courtesy of Pinky Ring)

Jun Yong-Bok Sonsen-nim's Lecture at Meguro Gajoen (Abridged)

June 28, 2009

Part 1
Transcribed and translated by flowerbossa

Thank you for letting my son make a successful debut on stage today.

On June 18, there was an opening ceremony celebrating the completion of the Korean Culture Center in Yotsuya (Tokyo). I had the honor of attending this ceremony along with Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko, the minister of the Agency of Cultural Affairs as well as many actors and actresses including ex-Takarazuka Revue actress Kei Aran (a third generation Korean resident).

Being a very lucky man, I was asked to create a work to be exhibited there. Their request was for something 360 cm in width – because I happen to be 180cm, exactly the same size as BYJ, so the work was to be as large as the two of us put to together – and 240 cm in length. Three years ago when I was asked for a quotation on the work, this is what I told them.

“Japan (lacquer) is something which lasts 10,000 years.” The works you saw here in Gajoen today will last that long for sure, because it is proven by the fact that something created in the Jomon Period (approximately 16,500 years to 3000 years ago) still exists in our age.
I was told that the 8 story culture center was to be constructed with the budget of 100 billion yen and I thought that it would be insane to ask for money given the opportunity to create something of that stature by a humble artist like me.

Twenty two years ago, I came to this country, knowing almost nothing about the culture and with little experience as an artist. So I was happy beyond words to be given the opportunity to create something for the new building.

Now then, what exactly should I create? Despite the fact that I was to work on something for free, the requirements that were made from my client were very complicated! Typically, when people think of a piece of work appropriate for a great building such as this culture center, they tend to think of something originating in aristocratic culture. But I insisted that as long as I was to take on this task, I wanted to create something that is totally original. Enough of using the works of the Chosen era. From now own, we have to create something truly great. Having heard this, the Korean cultural agency inquired “and what is that?” I answered – culture of the common people. Why does everything have to be about the emperors? The spirit of the artists without names; artists who gave their lives to their art though not leaving their names in history ; our forerunners who fought against severe poverty dreaming to leave their work in history; people who strove to produce a cup of soy sauce or miso praying for the health of their families… Such a rich culture could be found there, and why are we still caught up in the culture of the palace? I told them, I’m sorry, if that’s what you want, I will not have anything to do with it. Their response to this was very cool. “Alright, if you say so. It doesn’t have to be you, you know.” I heard later that there were actually more than 10,000 candidates they could choose from. That’s not hard to imagine, don’t you think? Who would turn down the offer to have his work exhibited in the Korean Culture Center in the middle of Tokyo? But I was willing to give it up, if they were not going to let me create my own work. Six months later, I received a letter. “You can have it your way.” (audience laughs) I was very happy.

The title of the work I created is “Onma”. Mama. (Sonsen-nim goes on to explain the nuance of the word “onma”. The meaning is mother, but it originates from the first sound that comes out of Korean babies). It is my onma, who bought me up in a poor household and did everything she could to overcome the difficulties of life, and it is she that holds the place of a hero in my heart. And this is what I wanted to express in my work.

Everyone, I stand here feeling like I am living in a dream. I did not believe that I could be living to this day. As a child, on my really lucky days I was able to have two meals, but usually it was either one or none at all. Because I was born in 1952 in the midst of the Korean war (my own son was born when I was fighting days of what seemed like war when I was working on the Gajoen project!), I was a very weak baby. Although I am very healthy right now, because I was constantly sick as an infant, my parents thought I would not make it and did not register my birth. During this war between the north and south, approximately 3 million people died, so some people did not register their children to avoid getting them taken away to war. But in my case, my parents really didn’t believe in me to survive. But somehow they were wrong, and I kept living. (laughs). So, when the war was over in 1955, my parents decided to register me, and asked the elderly man living next to us to do it on their behalf when he happened to go to the city hall. But there, he was told to pay a fine for being three years late. They couldn’t afford to pay the fine, so abandoning the idea of registering my real birthday, they came up with the idea that I was born on that day.

…How happy they would be if they saw me on this stage today… I hope that my own children will long continue to remember their grandfather and grandmother who bought me up in times of poverty and hardship.


gosijo said...

Reading with great interest. Thanks!

flowerbossa said...

Thank you for reading gosijo!