By Woo Jae-yeon
SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- A sign says pregnant women, the aged and young are advised not to enter the exhibition hall of artist Han Hyo-seok.
Passing the sign that piques one's curiosity and stepping down into the basement of Artside Gallery near Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul leads to installations of shocking sculptures hanging from the ceiling or standing on podiums.
The most disturbing work of all is the lifesize, hyper-realistic sculpture of naked black and white men hung from a rope, as if balancing out each other on two sides of a scale.
Part of "The Equilibrium of Inequality" series, the visually disturbing work is, in fact, the artist's way of expressing his yearning for a more beautiful and humane world, Han said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency at the gallery on Friday. He is holding a solo exhibition titled "The Equilibrium of Inequality" at the gallery until Nov. 18.
It took him almost two years to complete the liquid silicon casting of two U.S. soldiers and rigorously paint their skins with oil colors as realistically as possible. One twist is that Han changed their actual skin colors, so that the black man became white and vice versa, to express that everyone is equal regardless of their skin tone.
In the run up to the work, Han talked extensively with the black solider, who lived near his house in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, about the man's personal experiences of racism and discrimination, becoming a good friend of his.
The artist, 45, was born in the city, where large numbers of U.S. forces are stationed, and naturally grew up in an environment where he had many inter-racial friends and witnessed the harsh discrimination that they went through. He once saw a kid, born to a Korean mother and African American father, bleeding after being hit with a pebble on his head.
The early exposure to diverse cultures, social injustice and racism opened up his eyes to sensitive social subjects, immensely affecting his view of the world and shaping the direction and nature of his art world.
Before working on the universal theme of racism, he was interested in expressing the cruelty and inhumane treatment of animals.
For his pig series, including "The Pig 1: Ones Freed Only By Death," he actually worked in a pig factory farm, alongside four Vietnamese workers, for two years to observe how breeding pigs live their entire life, locked in tiny sow crates and breeding until death. Through the project, he gave eternal life to a dead pig and piglets, which died soon after their births, by recreating them in liquid silicone casting.
"There is no consideration, whatsoever, to pigs' dignity, although they are living creatures. They are just the means to make money for human beings," he said. Working there, he realized that it wasn't only pigs that were treated in a brutal way.
"People do that to other people too. I learned that from the Vietnamese workers and the mixed race kids I grew up together with ... Looking at world history, similar stories are abundant. For a long time, people have discriminated against others based on their skin color," he said.
For his next project, he is considering one that sheds light on corrupt religious communities and practitioners, which could be sensitive and potentially more controversial that his previous works.
"I can't change the world, but I hope to influence those interested in changing the world into a better place," he said. "What I am doing is not to shock people by displaying unpleasant images. What lies beneath is pity about human beings."
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