BANDI WALK exhibition: Korea and South Africa confront climate crisis through art

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Bandi Walk Exhibit Korean Cultural Center
Image Credit: KCCSA

In a groundbreaking collaboration, the Korean Cultural Centre in South Africa (KCCSA) brought together the artistic talents of South Korea and South Africa in the Ecological Environment Special Exhibition, BANDI WALK: One Step Closer to Our Earth. 

This exhibition, held from 3 June through to 20 August 2024, marks a significant milestone in the cultural exchange between the two nations.

Bandi Walk: The meaning behind the name

The exhibition’s name, ‘BANDI WALK,’ holds a special meaning. ‘Bandi’ is from the Korean word for firefly (bandisbul-i | 반딧불이 ) and symbolizes the purity of nature. 

This theme resonates throughout the exhibition, which showcases thought-provoking works by renowned and emerging artists from South Korea and South Africa. 

The artworks – ranging from contemporary installations to oil on canvas and multimedia – delve into the critical topics of the environment, climate, and the natural world.

Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to South Africa, Yang Dong-han, emphasised the importance of cultural exchange and collaboration between the two nations in addressing global environmental challenges.

Image Credit: KCCSA

From South Korea, the lineup includes: 

  • UM Along, 
  • CHOI Ji-ii, 
  • LEE Jo-heum, 
  • LIM Yonghyun, 
  • AABB (SEOK Jae-won, KIM Minjae, & KOO Jaeun), 
  • YOO Ye-jin, 
  • LIM Hyeonji, 
  • KANG Jeon-yun, 
  • CHOI Yeoleum, 
  • YANG Hyeonseo 
  • JANG Seung-wook. 

South Africa is represented by: 

  • Ashleigh Tumelo Machete AKA ‘Joburg Ash,’ 
  • Lungiswa Gqunta, 
  • Andrea du Plessis, 
  • Christel Attewell.

Insights into the exhibition

I had the honour of interviewing two notable artists: UM Along and CHOI Ji-ii from South Korea, along with Lawrence Lemaoana, a university lecturer, who provided valuable insights into the artworks displayed at the exhibition. 

Lemaoana emphasised the diversity of processes, methods, and forms of display used by the artists.

“It’s critical but relevant forms of communication, and the artists are expressing themselves in terms of their own understanding of nature, but also in terms of how to address these big issues in beautiful ways.”  

He took me on a tour of the exhibition, emphasising the diversity of the artists processes and their unique approaches to addressing environmental issues. 

AR and the Unicorn

Andrea Du Plessis’ piece, titled ‘Chrion Bellucetes’, features a unicorn, which represents nature – similar to how a stag is a common symbol in Asian art and literature, often associated with qualities such as nobility, longevity, and purity.

A painting of a unicorn in a frame on a wall

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Image Credit: KCCSA

Du Plessis’ work is also unique since in integrates Augmented Reality (AR) to become a living animation. 

Lemaoana explains: “She took that to the next level with the use of augmented reality. It becomes an artificial assimilation of a natural environment, it becomes an animated painting, giving life. It makes for a profound addition to the exhibition.”

Choi Ji-ii: Sacrifices and Spring

During her presentation, one of Choi’s quotes stuck with me:

“Make every step every day more peaceful and beautiful when winter comes, we know that spring will come again.” 

In her artwork ‘The Martyrdom of Men,’ Choi Ji-ii explores the sacrifices we make in our daily lives. She explains: “우리가 사랑하는 존재들을 위해서는 어쩔 수 없이 다른 세 존재의 희생을 요구하게 되는 상황에 처해 있습니다.”

Translation: “We are in a situation where, for the sake of the beings we love, we have no choice but to demand the sacrifice of other beings.”

A group of glowing lights on a green surface

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Image Credit: KCCSA

Even though we are aware of the sacrifices required, Choi says she wanted to prove that it could be done in a more peaceful and less harmful way. 

For this piece, she drew inspiration from a movie where the main character finds himself trapped in a repeating day, highlighting the repetitive nature of our daily lives. 

Choi’s creative process, likened to the maturation of a persimmon, reflects the theme of her artwork. Just as a persimmon ripens from bitter to sweet, Choi hopes her work will evolve from depicting the bitterness of sacrifices to showcasing the beauty of peaceful compromises.

This astringency represented her initial reactions of anger and violence towards uncomfortable or painful situations. However, she recognized that this was not the kind of work she wanted to leave behind. 

Instead, she hoped that through a lifelong process of growth and maturity, her work would eventually develop a sweet and pleasant taste, just like a fully ripe persimmon. 

Image Credit: Instagram/Choi Ji-ii

Choi joked that she might not be mature enough to “present viewers with a fine taste”, but she is continuously working towards that goal, striving “to overcome the initial bitterness and create something beautiful.”

Um Along: Migration and movement

Speaking about his artwork titled ‘Sign of Movement’, Um Along wanted the focus to be on the impact of environmental pollution on animals and their habitats. He saw parallels between his own movement and the forced movement of animals as their habitats were destroyed.

When asked about the theme and message of his work, he explained: 

“환경오염으로 인해서 동물들이 이동하는 것들을 거주지가 옮겨지는 것들에 집중을 하게 됐는데 그거에 집중하게 된 이유는 제가 도시에 살면서 도시가 재개발되면서 집을 이사하면서 유사점을 찾게 됐고요.” 

Translation: I began to focus on the movement of animals due to environmental pollution and the movement of residence. The reason I focused on that was because I lived in the city and found similarities while moving house as the city was redeveloped.”

A group of cactus statues on a lawn

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Image Credit: KCCSA

His creative process involves disassembling and reassembling the artwork, replicating the message of being able to move freely. 

The arrangement of the artwork also changes with each installation, making it site-specific and dependent on the location.

“따라 배열도 바뀌고 그리고 지금 여기 남아공에 와서 또 이미지들이 바뀌었고 또 다른 장소로 가면 이 이미지들도 새로운 이미지들로 대체되기도. 

(Translation: The arrangement changes accordingly, and now that I am here in South Africa, the images have changed again. And when I go to another place, these images are also replaced by new images.)

On a walk-through of Um Along’s work, Lemaoana explains: “To me, his work is beautiful in that he takes Korean infrastructure and likens it to migrating birds. The work speaks of movement, migration.” 

Innocence and environmental abuse

Meanwhile, Christel Attewell’s piece, ‘Onskuld’ (Afrikaans for ‘Innocence’) holds layered meanings which not only speaks about the natural environment and our abuse of it, but also incorporates biblical themes. 

“It becomes really interesting,” Lemaoana says, “the interpretation and then so the video beautifully speaks to that idea of washing your hands, and the melting ice alludes to the notion of melting ice in the environment.” 

A close-up of a screen

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Image Credit: KCCSA

The ice depicted in the video footage was also shaped like an anatomical heart, making the artwork, in Lemaoana’s words, “performative and integrated.” 

These motifs underscore the artwork’s commentary on environmental abuse and the loss of innocence.

Colonialism’s impact on nature

Cape Town-based artist Lungiswa Gqunta’s art installation ‘Plant Study II’ features twisted barb wire, a striking symbol of the impact of colonialism on nature.

Colonialism destroyed about 60% of natural fauna and flora, and Gqunta’s artwork serves as a powerful reminder of this devastating history. (Refer to: How Colonialism Spawned and Continues to Exacerbate the Climate Crisis)

Image Credit: Cheryl Kahla

It’s a thought-provoking approach to a very complex topic, and the materials used conveys the message in a powerful yet poetic manner. 

“This becomes a really interesting kind of conversation, this notion of human beings kinking nature and making barriers. She’s using barbed wire tied up with fabric, and that  is kind of partly spiritual, partly organic,” he says.

Giving back to nature

Ashleigh Tumelo Machete’s (also known as Joburg Ash) terrarium installation not only creates a self-sustaining ecosystem but also symbolises the act of giving back to nature. 

Image Credit: KCCSA

Image Credit: Cheryl Kahla

By showcasing indigenous plants that purify the environment, the artwork embodies the exhibition’s theme of reconnecting with and protecting the natural world.

“Those plants are indigenous, and they were selected quite particularly to speak to nature, but also how they function. The plants are used to get rid of negative energies.”

“It speaks to this idea of framing nature in a traditional way but with the message of reaching out to to its audience,” says Lemaoana.

Art and the Anthropocene

As climate scientists warn of a bleak future for humanity’s survival due to rising global temperatures, the term ‘Anthropocene’ has gained relevance. 

It refers to a period of time during which human activities have impacted the environment enough to constitute distinct geological changes. 

The BANDI WALK exhibition directly addresses the concept of the Anthropocene by highlighting these pressing issues and providing a perspective on the Earth’s past, present, and future. 

The artworks featured in this exhibition highlight the various ways in which human actions have impacted the natural world, from environmental pollution and habitat destruction to the effects of climate change.

It seeks to remind us of the richness of our ecosystems, highlight the current planetary crisis, and encourage reflection on our responsibilities and roles in overcoming the climate crisis.

Visit Bandi Walk:

  • Dates: 3 June-30 August 2024
  • Time: 9AM-4PM (closed during 12PM-1PM)
  • Venue: Korean Cultural Centre SA
  • Address: 267 Waterkloof Road, Brooklyn, Pretoria
  • Admission: Free

Note: The exhibition is closed on weekends and public holidays.

Cheryl Kahla has dedicated her career to exploring the intersections of tech and society. With contributions to numerous international outlets, she provides insights into emerging tech trends, AI, science, and the impact of digital innovations. Outside of writing, Cheryl indulges in gaming, martial arts, and debating the merits of AI with her cat, Gotham. He’s indifferent to the subject.

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