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In South Korea, Fingerprints Are Symbols of Protest

Though accelerated urban development has forced many out, artist Jazoo Yang has made her mark on their former homes.

by Catherine Chapman
Dec 5 2015, 12:30pm

Artist Jazoo Yang uses red finger prints, reminiscent of cave wall paintings. Photo by: Young-moon Ha

Tiny red thumbprints line an abandoned house in the old port town of Motogol, located within South Korea’s second largest city of Busan. Here, construction projects making way for new real estate are taking the place of naturally formed villages, causing ancient dwellings and their inhabitants to disappear. Using Inju or JIjang, fingerprints in her latest work, Dots : Motgol66, artist Jazoo Yang protests against forced demolition, demonstrating the vulnerability of these areas. 

Motgol 66 is a house that has a traditional Korean roof and the structure and form unique to a coastal village,” Yang tells The Creators Project. “There aren’t many left like this in Busan.”

While Yang believes in improving depleted areas like Motogol, she thinks redevelopment can, “completely eliminate villages. Here, the natives’ intentions aren’t reflected. They must leave, even if they want to stay, and don’t get rewarded properly as well.”

Entirely covering an empty house set to be demolished and replaced by a high-rise apartment with Inju fingerprints, Motgol, Busan, South Korea. Photo by: Young-moon Ha

Rapid urbanization and population growth have ensued in South Korea since the end of the Korean War. But while the country grows economically, battles concerning residents’ mandatory evictions have resulted in police brutality, depicting the government’s redevelopment policies as exploitative of the poor.

In response, Yang dips her thumb into an ink pad, covering an empty house—soon to be demolished—with her imprinted fingerprints. This type of mark, she says, bares legal significance—often used in public offices or as a sort of signature on important documents.

“Jijang is more like a public expression about promise, contract, pledge or oath,” she says. “Like the seal of Western nobles and royalties, it also means presenting oneself.”

Working for hours on one house, Yang says she grew an attachment to the building and its memories. Photo by: Young-moon Ha

She goes on to say, “Alleys, traditional houses, trees and everything that took a long time to embellish are gone in an instant without a trace. The act of imprinting each red Jijang is a promise to remember all of this and a temporal and spatial record.”

For three days a week over 20 days, Yang worked a maximum of five hours on the house. Within that time, she received threats from the construction site and saw two houses vanish in order to make way for modern buildings. After receiving a positive response from village residents, she hopes to expand Dots into a series.

“I was able to give a sense of attention to their villages, which turned into dumping grounds,” she says. “Leaving artworks and taking photos gave pride to the villages and houses in which they once lived.”

Inju fingerprints on a side of the building. Photo by: Young-moon Ha

Covered with Inju, an abandoned house gets new meaning. Photo by: Young-moon Ha

Jazoo Yang is a South Korean artist based in Seoul. You can see more of her painting, installations, street art and experimental work here.

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