The Korea Herald


‘DMZ Theater’ tells stories about life on the border

Artist Jung Yeon-doo and theater director Surya, who visited 13 observatories located at the DMZ, showcase interdisciplinary art through performances, installations, photos

By Park Yuna

Published : Aug. 31, 2021 - 11:05

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"Geumgangsan Theater” by Jung Yeon-doo (Courtesy of the artist)

The Demilitarized Zone established after the Korean War (1950-1953) runs across the Korean Peninsula. Although the 2-kilometer-wide strip has existed for decades, the area has been an imaginary place for many, especially those who have not experienced the war.

Left untouched for decades, the DMZ has 13 observatories where civilians can get a glimpse of the border line under strict vigilance. Over the past five years, artist Jung Yeon-doo and theater director Surya visited the observatories more than 50 times to create the interdisciplinary art project “DMZ Theater” which is taking place at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in Seoul. 

“Cheorwon Peace Theater” by Jung Yeon-doo and Surya is played at MMCA Seoul (MMCA) “Cheorwon Peace Theater” by Jung Yeon-doo and Surya is played at MMCA Seoul (MMCA)

The project encompasses a variety of art, showing photographs taken from the observatories, installations and 13 performances by theater actors. The shows take place at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Each of the 13 performances are named after the observatories. They were created based on interviews with soldiers who guard the DMZ, folktales about the places around the observatories and stories about the Korean War.

The overarching story comes together when the audiences watch the performances, Jung said. The multidisciplinary artist became attracted to the border area when he met many immigrants while staying in France in 2016.

“After getting along with the immigrants, I became regretful that I had not met North Korean defectors before. After coming back to South Korea, I talked with many defectors and became interested in the DMZ as a middle zone which does not belong to either side,” Jung said after a show on Wednesday. 

"Ganghwa Peace Theater” by Jung Yeon-doo and Surya is played at MMCA Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The performance “Gwanghwa Peace Theater” was inspired by a story Jung heard from people who live near the border. The performance centers around the story of a man who crossed the sea and arrived at Ganghwado using various plastic bottles as a lifebelt. Ganghwado is an island where North Korea’s Imjin River and South Korea’s Han River meet to flow into the sea.

“The performance is based on the story I heard from a civilian near the border that some in North Koreans attempt to come to Ganghwado, taking advantage of the tide near the island,” he said. 

"Complete Victory Theater” by Jung Yeon-doo and Surya is played at MMCA Seoul (MMCA)

In the performances, the actors interact with installation works and mingle with music and lighting. Each performance runs around five minutes. Other performances include “Complete Victory Theater,” “Communist Extinction Theater,” “Dora Theater,” and “Cheorwon Peace Theater.”

The project runs through until Oct. 3 at MMCA Seoul.