Mother as Laborer Series, 1989
3 UV prints on acrylic panel
each: 46 × 62 cm
Courtesy of Gwangju Biennale Foundation
Formed in 1987, Dung-ji was a collective of female artists that fought for workers’ rights and included South Korean artists Inn-sun Kim, Suk- jin Seo, Jeong-hee Lee, Young-me Kim, and Seon- ah Ko. Their paintings highlighted the deplorable working conditions that low-wage workers in South Korea, many of whom were women, had to face during the 1980s and 1990s.
Initially presented at Burning Down the House, the tenth edition of Gwangju Biennale in 2014, Mother as Laborer Series represents female labor in Korea in the 1980s and is part of the collective’s fight against sexual and class discrimination. The triptych depicts the mother at home, the woman as factory worker, and women’s efforts to have a say in the workplace. The painting of the woman as factory worker references an episode from 1989, when the American company Pico Korea—which ran TV parts factories—carried out a fraudulent closure of factories, resulting in unpaid wages. At that time, female factory workers did not join the labor union because of the unequal treatment they received from their male colleagues. They attempted to create an independent union instead, but these efforts were halted by the government, that refused to acknowledge a union by female workers.
Women played a significant role in the development of the South Korean economy. As low-wage factory workers, they often worked under severe conditions. Their demands for improved working conditions and labor rights begun as early as the 1970s. These early protests are still overlooked historically, but they inspired the Democratization Movement of the 1980s. Dung-ji is an important example of female artists acting in solidarity with female workers.
Spring of Democracy presents reproductions of this important series.
Artist Group Dung-ji (1987–90) is a group of female artists who fought for workers’ rights during the 1980s using banner paintings that symbolized democracy and labor movements. Inn- sun Kim, Suk-jin Seo, Jeong-hee Lee, Young-me Kim, and Seon-ah Ko, who worked in the women’s division within the National Art Association, came to call themselves Artist Group Dung-ji after an incident where an investigator illegally invaded and arrested staff members from a print shop. Although the collective was eventually integrated into the Labor and Art Committee when it was formed by the Korean People’s Artists Association in 1990, it produced a range of banner paintings calling for democracy and social revolution, including Democratic Citizen Daedong Festival (1987), Maxtech Democratic Labor Union (1987), Public Hearing on Employment Policy (1990). As documents of women’s history and women’s art history of Korea, their banner paintings have been shown at exhibition such as Trends and Prospects (Seoul Art Gallery, 1990), The First Women and Reality Exhibition (Geurim Madang Min, Seoul, 1987).