[Life In Korea] Delivering 'taste of life' via street art
For Mr. Tongue, this was both a point of excitement and caution, especially in Korea.
“Because it is an imported culture, a lot of the general public lack the knowledge of it. When I talk to people (in Korea), they know it’s from New York and they say it’s through vandalism. Yes, that is all true, but it is also the biggest art movement that is happening all over the world -- there has never been anything quite like this. So I hope that collaborators would not just utilize street art as a temporary commercial appeal for younger generations, but also really dig deep into the significance of both the artists’ work and the street art culture.”
Mr. Tongue added that the respect goes both ways. For international street artists coming to Korea, he hopes they would take time to respect and get to know the depth of Korea’s culture, community, architecture and people.
“There’s a lot of beauty here,” he said.
Street art and hip-hop culture — from New York to Seoul
The style of street art that originated in New York and Philadelphia in the 1960s is believed to have been introduced to South Korea in the early 1990s in tandem with influences of hip-hop culture.
Gatherings in underground tunnels near the Han River by some of Korea’s first-generation graffiti artists such as Vandal, KOMA, Houdini, Santa and Garu soon spread to areas of Seoul like Hongdae, Apgujeong, Sinchon and Itaewon, according to a TimeOut report. However, in 2015, the Korean government stepped up punishments and cracked down to curb the growing number of graffiti works across the country.
For Mr. Tongue, being a street artist in Korea without speaking the language or understanding the culture posed unique hurdles. For street artists, knowing how to hide in the shadows is crucial, however, not only was Korea teeming with surveillance cameras, but being unable to speak or read Korean street signs often slowed him down.
“In one instance, there was a sign saying that it was a construction site, but because I couldn't differentiate on the spot if it was about construction or if it was about some legal issues, I avoided having contact with that area entirely. So it does help if you're able to read Korean a little bit so that you can better navigate the streets while living in Korea.”