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2 Koreas- I am Sun Mu

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Heather Butler
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2 Koreas- I am Sun Mu

“I am Sun Mu” is a documentary that came out in 2016 about an artist creating under the pseudonym of Sun Mu, which translates to mean “no boundaries”, who defected from North Korea in the 1990’s.  Sun Mu was invited to have an exhibition at the Yuan Gallery in Beijing in 2014 and the documentary tracks from about 3 months before the exhibition takes place until after Sun Mu and his family return to South Korea. 

This documentary would be valuable to show in my advanced Art classes, to discuss propaganda and censorship along with the powerful force of art to tell the story of North and South Korea. Sun Mu’s art is very hopeful, but also criticizes the North Korean government. This film also discussed how Chinese artists that are considered “sensitive” are monitored in China. It shows the danger that artists criticizing oppressive regimes have to deal with and that the internal push to make art, often outweighs personal danger. Artists like Sun Mu are still highly aware of the danger of exposing their family, still in North Korea, and protecting their spouse and children in South Korea,when they travel to China for the exhibition. 

Sun Mu works with a Chinese artist Cu Xianji while he is in China and the gallery director, Liang Kegang, to ensure his exhibition is installed, but there is always the danger of the Chinese government collaborating with the North Korean government to interrupt and dismantle the show. Sun Mu’s face is never shown to protect him and his family. This documentary also shows the process that goes into installing an exhibition, and Sun Mu and many other defectors journey out of North Korea through China, Laos, Thailand and into South Korea. As a class, we could discuss Sun Mu’s artistic style, and the symbolism that he uses in his works, to tell his story. Several times throughout the film, Sun Mu said, “I’m just doing what I have to do” and this resounds with me so much.