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Huge Floating Lantern Will Carry Refugee's Memories from the Korean War

South Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang's 'Floating Dreams' will sail down London's Thames with 500 miniature drawings lit from within.

Artist's rendering of the piece. Image courtesy of the artist

Come September London's river Thames will welcome a three-story high giant lantern that will share the tidal river along with the usual tugboats, tourist cruisers, and the odd seagull bobbing along. The lantern will be a new installation, titled Floating Dreams, from South Korean multimedia artist Ik-Joong Kang and will be part of the annual Totally Thames festival.


Although it will look spectacular, featuring 500 miniature drawings lit from within, the artwork comes from a place of tragedy. The artist, who currently lives in New York, returned home to tour the country and collect drawings from the generation that fled North Korea to South Korea during the Korean War. These refugees are now octogenarians or older and Kang asked them to draw their hometowns on pieces of paper measuring around three-by-three inches—many of them brokedown while doing it, Kang noted.

The artist then transferred these emotion-filled images onto Hanji, pieces of traditional Korean rice paper, which will then be brought together and built into the artwork. Although the piece reflects upon the breakup of families, homes, and communities, presenting these parts as a unified structure points to hope for the future. It also nods to the plights of the many refugees around the world who are forced to flee their homes.

“I have three principles in mind when doing public art, which is healing, connecting, and embracin," Kang told The Korean Herald. "The project’s subject is the displaced, but the bigger theme here is unification. Dreaming about unification is not enough. We also have to consider what we will do after unification. One of the essential roles of an artist is asking questions and I am doing it (through my art).”

The piece is similar to an upcoming installation by the artist called The North in My Dream, which also explores the idea of reconnecting North and South Korea. For that piece 15,000 drawings by people forced to leave North Korea have been turned into a mosaic which will be displayed on the border of the two countries in August.


Elderly Koreans creating their pictures. via Yonhap news

Visit the Totally Thames website here for more details.

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