Abstract

Abstract:

This article examines visual images of the Sewol Ferry disaster and its traumatic aftermath. It focuses on paintings by Hong Sung-dam, who has grappled with visualizing various moments of historical injustice and trauma in his art—particularly the work Sewŏl Owŏl (2014) and paintings exhibited in the exhibition Dŭlsum, Nalsum (Inhaling and exhaling) (2016). By analyzing Hong's paintings, this article examines communicable and transformative potentials and limitations of visual images in bearing witness to disaster and trauma. It asks how Hong's paintings translate affective feelings of grief, fear, shame, anger, and hope from his multiple perspectives of witnessing as a victim, a survivor, and an observer, and how the paintings may trigger an empathic response that potentially moves viewers to critical thoughts. It shows how the artist urges the viewer to confront the victims' last moments, feel their pain, and listen to their final words. I argue that the uncomfortable but affective images are enacted as a reminder of unjust deaths and facilitate dialogical relations between the artist and the viewer, between the victim and the survivor, and between the living and the dead. However, what is laid bare is the difficulty of representing that which is neither present nor absent, and neither dead nor alive in the state of mourning. Despite some disagreement between the artist and some victims' parents, they all share the same hope that an act of witnessing will lead to remembering what has been done to victims and traumatized survivors, and make possible any productive social changes in consciousness and action. Hong Sung-dam's paintings reclaim the agency of the dead and envision the conditions of possibility for a life in the aftermath of tragedy.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 96-119
Launched on MUSE
2019-05-08
Open Access
No
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