The Gwangju Biennial: Traumatic Memory and the Absence of Stability

This article was previously published in Issue 19, ABSENCE (December 2018).


Celebrating its 12th anniversary, the Gwangju Biennial began as an arts festival to commemorate the young lives lost during the Gwangju Uprising. The Uprising was a mass protest against the repressive military government which took place on the 18th and 27th May 1980, in the small provincial city of Gwangju in South West Korea. Freedom from oppression is a recurrent theme seen throughout the pavilions, celebrated through an array of thought-provoking artworks and site-specific installations. Most of these spaces are reused, recycled and borrowed from the city, encouraging visitors to engage with local culture and cuisine. This interaction brings to the fore the collective traumatic memories and subsequently a cold, isolating sensation of absence. This experience, combined with the works on display, presents a raw and unfiltered picture of the hardships faced by suppressed people, not just in Korea but globally.

Student protesters gather in the