July - Aug 2022 (Vol. 65)

Special Exhibition

Commemorative exhibition for the
10th anniversary of MUCH:
“Re-Connect: Until Everyone is Safe”

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History (MUCH), which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is hosting a special exhibition on the history of pandemics from September 9, 2022, until January 31, 2023. The exhibition, starting with COVID-19, looks back on the history of infectious diseases from a global perspective and remind visitors—who are still living in a “pandemic age”—of the need for cooperation and solidarity based on a foundation of trust. Furthermore, the exhibition will be featured under the motto announced by the UN and WHO regarding pandemic response, “No one is safe until everyone is safe,” and held in conjunction with “COVID-19: Record in Art”, an exhibition jointly hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Arts Council Korea that uses the artist’s perspective to record the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in our lives.

In December 2019, the first reports of an unknown form of pneumonia emerged from China, after which the disease spread quickly to neighboring countries and the rest of the world. In 2020, the disease was named “COVID-19,” and in March, the WHO officially declared the COVID-19 pandemic. The scale of the human damages suffered (due to the symptoms and aftereffects of COVID-19) as well as the socioeconomic damages that are still occurring all over the world is so great that experts believe it will be remembered as a major historic event.

Because pathogens, like viruses, cannot self-replicate, they survive and multiply by infecting humans or animals. Humankind has lived alongside pathogens for as long as its history: over the millennia-long transition from agrarian to urban societies, we have always been threatened by a virtually endless supply of diseases. With the development of technologies such as vaccines and antibiotics, there was hope that humans would soon be free of infectious diseases. Contrary to this expectation, however, the past few decades have seen one long string of epidemics: caused namely by HIV, AIDS, avian flu, SARS, MERS, swine flu, and ebolavirus. If anything, the gap between one epidemic and the next is growing increasingly smaller.

A family poses with their pets for a photo during the 1918 influenza(Spanish flu) pandemic.
Everyone is wearing a mask.
©Online Archive of California

Cover of the May 1980 issue of World Health, a magazine published by the WHO,
declaring the eradication of smallpox

The COVID-19 pandemic, which seems to be coming under control, is still ongoing. What tools do we need to equip ourselves with in the “pandemic age”? As we now live in a world where everyone is connected, a pandemic cannot be resolved only by suppressing it in a certain region. We must reconnect—tightening our loosened bonds to one another—to overcome COVID-19 and prepare for new threats that loom ahead. In some ways, the end of a pandemic is not the eradication of the disease but the start of a long journey that entails making preparations for the next one. MUCH hopes that this exhibition will provide an invaluable opportunity for us to think about what living in the current pandemic age demands of humankind.

  • News on the Special Exhibition


Exploring the curatorial profession:
Senior Curators Han Silbi
(Collection Management Division) and
Lee Dowon(Exhibitions Division)

By definition, “senior curator” is an occupation that requires constant historical research—and a lot of thought about how to effectively convey the outcomes of such research to the general public. It is a uniquely-satisfying job that pairs the hardship of academic inquiry with the joy of seeing the results of such inquiry resonate with others. This month, we met with Senior Curators Han Silbi and Lee Dowon to hear what they feel are the most difficult and rewarding aspects of their work.

Q. There must be a lot that you wish to experiment with in your position as senior curator.

Han | Since my undergraduate days, I have been deeply interested in history that focuses on the lives of “ordinary people.” The content that is covered by MUCH, which specializes in modern and contemporary history, is increasingly expanding into the 21st century. My goal is for the museum to preserve digital resources and keep them in good condition for future generations. Also, if the opportunity ever arises, I would love to design an exhibition that focuses on such resources.

Lee | We get a lot of visitors who are parents with small children, and that is wonderful. I believe, however, that MUCH has had relatively little success catering to people who are millennials, Gen Z, or younger. It is considered “trendy” to visit an art gallery and post photos of one’s experience there on social media. I guess people do not apply that mindset to MUCH because of the notion that history is a serious subject and therefore something that is not easily approached. My goal is for us to host exhibitions that reflect current exhibition trends while subverting the prejudice that the museum is always a solemn and serious place.

Q. What digital resources are you working with now?

Han | We recently put together several spatial displays that spotlight major social issues of contemporary Korea. A few months ago, we made one based on a presidential election theme. Most recently, we created one on the subway protests calling to eradicate discrimination against those with physical or mental disabilities. It’s important to be aware that there are always multiple perspectives on any event and to present each event in a way that does not favor a particular perspective.

Q. How are exhibitions featured in the Thematic Galleries designed and put together?

Lee | We must combat the notion that an art gallery is a place for fun, while a museum is a place to study. My goal is to design exhibitions that make people want to visit for an engaging and fun experience of Korea’s modern history. The fact that the subject matter is serious does not mean that it has to be presented in a drab or somber way. Recently, we’ve incorporated a lot of digital elements, such as interactive exhibits. I believe that we can reach out to young people more effectively through multi-sensory mediums than written text alone.

Today in History

The operation that changed the course of the
Korean War: Incheon Landing Operation

Douglas MacArthur and members of the US Marines observe troops.
©National Archives of Korea

The Korean War, which began on June 25 with a surprise attack by North Korea, ceased being a civil war quite early on with the immediate intervention by the United States. The Incheon Landing Operation is one of the most noted operations of the Korean War’s early days: it was a watershed moment that slowed the DPRK’s southward advance and, ultimately, shifted the course of the entire war. The period from September 15, the date of the Operation, until Seoul was reclaimed from North Korean control on September 28 was especially tense—mostly because no one knew how it would end.

In the early days of the war, the North Korean People’s Army (KPA), equipped with a strong armed forces and an ample supply of weapons, maintained the upper hand based on their initial surprise attack even in the face of a joint front established by South Korean and UN-supplied troops. The KPA managed to conquer 90 percent of South Korean territory at its height, prompting the United Nations Command (UNC) to plan an amphibious invasion. General Douglas MacArthur believed that Incheon was the only landing site that would make it possible to cut off the KPA from the rear. Claiming Seoul from Incheon, the closest port city, would not only be a psychological shock to the enemy but also enable the UNC to cut the KPA’s supply line. MacArthur also argued that a joint counterattack by the South Koreans and UNC from both Incheon and the Nakdonggang River could minimize allied casualties while maximizing gains. On September 15, 1950, the Incheon Landing Operation was carried out under the code name “Operation Chromite” by a massive force of 75,000 troops , representing eight countries, and a fleet of 261 naval vessels. After arriving in Incheon, the South Korean troops and UNC forces overwhelmed approximately 2,000 KPA members, took over Incheon, and succeeded in taking control of Seoul on September 28.

The US Army’s 7th Infantry Division disembarks at Incheon Port during the
Incheon Landing Operation. ©National Archives of Korea

A front-page article on the Incheon Landing Operation published in an American newspaper,
The Sun, in its September 18, 1950, issue. ©MUCH

The Incheon Landing Operation played a key role in reversing the course of the Korean War, allowing South Korea and the UNC, which had been pushed as far back as the Nakdonggang River, to take the upper hand. At the time, all transportation for large-scale transports between the North and South passed through Seoul. This meant not only that the success of the Incheon Landing Operation and subsequent takeover of Seoul cut the supply line of the advancing KPA, but also that the KPA was surrounded by South Korean troops and UNC forces, who were occupying the Nakdong Perimeter and Incheon/Seoul area. Many military historians refer to the Incheon Landing Operation as the most successful military operation of the 20th century. It will long be remembered as a moment of victory created through the partnership between South Korea and many other countries.

Museum Review

Advertisements of modern and contemporary
Korea through immersive videos

The Thematic Gallery II exhibition, A Confession to the World: Advertising, which began on August 16 (Tuesday), featured two immersive videos that are also partially projected on the floor (Parts 3 She is Gorgeous and 4 Miracle or Technology). The fact that the videos include floor space and interactive elements make it easy and fun for visitors to focus on the content: 1) trends and consumption of modern/contemporary fashion through fashion ads and 2) changes in everyday life brought about by home appliance ads. The backdrops, which reflect multiple periods of contemporary Korea, and the pairing of fashion/home appliances with advertisements for them show visitors the kinds of consumer goods that were popular throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The fashion advertisements reveal how ideas of beauty have changed based on consumption, while the home appliance advertisements show how the latest technologies made the daily routines of ordinary Koreans easier.

  • Thematic Gallery Ⅱ Overview
  • Exhibition Teaser

Calligraphic work by Ahn Junggeun on
education designated as a cultural heritage
by the Korean government

On June 23, a calligraphic work by Ahn Junggeun owned by MUCH, “Educating a child outvalues making a fortune (黃金百萬兩 不如一敎子),” was selected to be a State/Municipality-designated Cultural Heritage. The scroll, which was written by Ahn in March 1910 while imprisoned in Luishun, China was given to the prison’s section chief for safekeeping. The phrase, which literally translates to “one million pieces of gold is less than teaching one’s son one of the classics,” reflects Ahn’s belief in education as something to be practiced rather than the act of memorization. The Cultural Heritage Administration explained that it designated this work because of its historical value and excellent physical condition.

Museum Preview

September cultural event:
Singing Audition “It’s Gwanghwamun Time"

MUCH is hosting a singing audition for the public, titled “It’s Gwanghwamun Time” on September 24 at 17:00 to celebrate its decennial. Anyone interested in modern/contemporary history or the museum is welcome to participate: all you need to do is submit a video of you singing a favorite song. The scoring process will incorporate citizens’ responses to the videos, which will be posted ahead of the contest. The event aims to encourage citizens to visit museums and promote MUCH as a place where learning can be fun.

National Museum of Korean Contemporary History Newsletter July - Aug 2022 (Vol. 65) / ISSN 2384-230X
198 Sejong-daero, Jongro-gu, Seoul, 03141, Republic of Korea / 82-2-3703-9200 / www.much.go.kr
Editor: Lee Seungjae, Kim Hyunjung, Lee Jihye, Lee Soojin
/ Design: plus81studios

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