Between Heaven and Earth I, 1981
gouache on paper
193.9 × 259.1 cm
Yeon-gyun Kang—who organized the Anti- Biennale, known as Gwangju Unification Art Festival, in parallel to the first Gwangju Biennale in 1995—has been creating works that reveal the Democratization Movement as he experienced it in Gwangju. Between Heaven and Earth I, created between 1980 and 1981, is the first of his life-long Between Heaven and Earth series, which represents his personal reactions to the event. The series was also featured in Sweet Dew: After 1980, Gwangju Biennale’s twentieth anniversary exhibition, held in 2014. In the 1981 painting, corpses and bodies contorted in grief and without individual, distinguishable features allude to a humanity afflicted by horror, anguish, and sadness, caused by the brutality of the military suppression in Gwangju. Kang began to work on the painting in June and July of 1980, wanting to create a work that symbolized the May 18 Movement and the death that resulted from it—which, from his perspective, is what defines the event.
Yeon-gyun Kang (b. 1941, Gwangju, Korea) is a noted Minjung artist. After the May 18 Democratization Movement, he used art to create awareness of the atrocities of Gwangju and contributed to the revitalization of Minjung art in South Korea in the 1980s. From 1969 to 1975, he served as a journalist for the Chonnam Ilbo Culture Department. He set up Rodin Art Studio and began to explore the medium gouache painting. He has served as the advisor (1988) and co- chairman (1992–95) of the National Federation of Korean Artists (People’s Federation). During the 1st Gwangju Biennale in 1995, he organized the first Anti-Biennale, which was titled Gwangju Unification Art Festival. It presented the works of about 200 artists gathered from around the country in an outdoor exhibition at Mangwol-dong Cemetery. From 1996 to 1998, he served as the head of the Gwangju Museum of Art and the Secretary General of the Gwangju Biennale (1996–98), and participated in several solo and group exhibitions. He received Gwangju May Civilian Award (1996) and Order of Cultural Merit (1998).