Chunhyok Kang, A North Korean Painter

Chunhyok Kangㅣ Hongik University Alumnus (Art) ㅣ Rapper/Painter

Anyone born in the pre-digital era and raised in North Korea may have a clue, but there was really nothing else to do except running around and playing outside. Since I was on the calmer side, I rather spent most of my childhood doodling. I was liked by many friends because I was good at drawing.

I was an only child. My dad was fun and enjoyed drinking, while family meant everything to my mom. I remember spending my childhood at my grandmother's house. When I was about 12 years old, one morning, my dad suddenly woke me up and told me to cross the river with him to China. I followed my dad without knowing what was happening. Then the ice of the frozen river broke while crossing and I fell into the water. I have a vivid memory of my dad jumping into the icy water and lifting me up.

Check out Kang Chunhyok's design here!

north korean rapper chunhyok kang

Here is why we defected to China. My father, who worked in a coal mine, left for China to make money considering his family's circumstances. When he returned home a year later, authorities sent him to prison. My mother then successfully bribed them in order to get my father out of the prison for a while, and this is when my parents realized that there was no hope living in North Korea anymore and started planning to defect.

In the winter of 1998, our family moved to and lived in China, hiding for four years and avoiding the eyes of the Chinese police. Eventually, my family and I wanted a place where we could no longer hide and attain a stable status, so we decided to come to South Korea. My cousin and I went on the dangerous journey first.

It was not a time when the Internet was available and accessible like today, so it was challenging to get relevant information since there were not many North Korean defectors. We crossed the Cambodian border via Laos with a world map, but soon we got caught by Cambodian soldiers. We pretended we were Chinese and refused to be investigated. They must have been exhausted with us, so they took all the money we had and handed us over to a pastor who helped North Korean defectors in Cambodia. With unexpected help, we met our parents again and finally entered South Korea in 2001.

I don't know if it was because the journey to South Korea was too hard, but I was full of gratitude the first time I met [came to] South Korea. It was beautiful, and I felt the scent of my hometown.

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My family started living in a rental house given by the government. It was nice to have a place  to stay even though it was old and narrow. I transferred to the 8th grade because I couldn't graduate from middle school as I was on a journey to South Korea. But I could not stay in school for a long time because it was hard to adjust since I was way older than my peers.

Since then, I have been wandering in life. Until I reached the age of 25, I tried all kinds of work, including construction, food delivery, and  interior labor. Then one day, a friend told me, "You're good at drawing. Why don’t you try going to college?" and just like that, I took the general qualification exam and even finished college entrance exams. As a result, I was admitted to Hongik University with an Art major in 2011. The know-how on building relationships I learned from wandering around helped me greatly in my college years.

Ahead of college graduation, I participated in a hip-hop audition program called 'Show Me the Money' with a rap about North Korea, which made me become the most searched at the time on a mainstream web search engine in South Korea.

Yes, I am a painter and a rapper, and people call me Saeteomin, a new settler from the North. Saeteomin. It may be a given title for people to distinguish those from the North, but it is my identity now, and a word that guides me what I should be doing in the future. This is why I tell people about the reality of North Korea through paintings and rap music, which is the way I enjoy and am good at.

Currently, I have been holding exhibitions in South Korea and abroad, and I plan to continue participating in more exhibitions and music activities simultaneously.

• What I Like: Talking to good people with a drink, sharing what I have with people around me
• My favorite color: Black
• My favorite architecture: Traditional Korean houses
• 
My favorite hobby: Listening to music, drawing at a cafe

Click here to visit Chunhyok Kang's YouTube channel. 


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