A homage to Roy Lichtenstein”based on street art found in Cheonan, S. Korea
These lips are part of, and the most prominent feature of, a small mural on a cheap corrugated steel gate entitled “The Color of Plack.” (Plack most likely being a bastardized Korean spelling of Black) Part of a shopping district in downtown Cheonan’s Shinbu-dong, it’s passed by with much notice. You can even see the remnants of tape left from post bills that at one point directly covered this piece, forgotten, overlooked, discarded, it sits on the sidelines without much fanfare. However, it is obviously a very caricaturized version of blackface. I suppose it’s impossible to know the political meaning behind it (if there is any at all) or what statement the artist was trying to make (if there is any at all), but I had to wonder, as I looked at the strong thick brushstrokes and layers of paint and color atop each other, is this racist?
Korea, to be honest, is a very closed society that has an open and quite acceptable disdain for people and cultures that are not their own. Mostly a remnant of the old guard, it’s not as prevalent with the youth, but in a proud country old attitudes die hard. There are many reasons for this, which I elect to not discuss here. However, it brings me back to the question of what makes an object racist. After careful deliberation I came to the conclusion that the driving reason is the intent. Is the purpose of the object to hurt or offend? I doubt that a young Korean street artist put such time and effort into a beautifully rendered portrait in order to insult an entire race of people. (Sidebar: There are almost no foreigners in S. Korea – out of a population of 50 million, only about 850,000 people are foreign, and of that 500,000 are Chinese, so the number of black people in the country is a fraction of a percent) I felt a twinge a shame for the artist when I viewed the picture as perhaps ignorant or naïve but not racist. However, I am white, and I cannot say what my feelings would be if I was not. Therefore if someone is offended by a piece of art depicting their race, despite the artist have an innocent intent, is it still racist? Do you think this particular painting is racist? I would love to hear your thoughts, as comments!
*It should be noted that directly under the face it says in capital letters THE COLOR OF PLACK -which I failed to capture…
Camera: Nikon D3100, 18-55mm lens
Effects:*The Lichtenstein-esque dots are from a comic filter which I applied that also adjusts the thickness of colors and lines. The top photo also has a faded infrared filter.