Murals take shots at presidential candidates in ‘Art Battle’
Published : Dec 2, 2021 - 16:47
Updated : Dec 5, 2021 - 11:05
Graffiti artist Ninbolt stands in front of the wall of a secondhand book store on which he has depicted political scandals of Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party. (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)

The wall of a secondhand bookstore that enjoyed brief media attention in July for its politically provocative murals has generated yet more controversy this week, when a new painting by the artist Tanksy appeared, depicting the various scandals of the Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung.

In what has been described by organizers as an “art battle,” Tanksy’s participation lifted a wooden panel covering a mural by graffiti artist Ninbolt, which takes the form of a panel of four satirical images that take aim at the scandals.

Although Ninbolt’s mural first appeared on Nov. 12, 18 days before the appearance of Tanksy's piece, it remained covered with a wooden panel for much of that time, with the building owner stating that he would only remove the panel once the wall finds a political balance. 

Then came Tanksy’s painting, which depicts an actoress who alleges Lee Jae-Myung had an affair with her at the center. The woman is framed by apartment buildings in a reference to land development irregularities that took place in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, during the time Lee served as the city’s mayor. Part of this painting appears to have been torn away by a figure in red, revealing two figures central to the scandal behind bars.

Even as Tanky’s painting and Ninbolt’s mural attract media attention, the organizer said his intention is innocent.

“This has nothing to do politics. Instead, just enjoy the art for art’s sake. This event has been staged to promote less well-known artists and provide them with a platform to showcase their work,” Kim Min-ho, CEO of Good Player, a culture and art management company, told The Korea Herald. Kim rented the wall from the owner of the building from October to June next year and plans various art events.

Despite Kim’s intention, the painting by Tanksy infuriated the actoress portrayed, who visited the wall in the early hours of Thursday morning to disfigure the piece with damning annotations.

Artist Tanksy's mural (left) is shown on Tuesday before it was damaged. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, in one of Ninbolt’s images, all of which are connected by plus signs, the artist paints a palm with the Chinese character for “king,” in reference to the character that was shown painted on the opposition candidate’s own palm during a television debate. The incident raised criticism that People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol is superstitious.

In another panel, Ninbolt depicts a dog being given an apple, mimicking an Instagram post made by Yoon shortly after he was forced to apologize for his inappropriate remarks about a former dictator. The post played with the fact that the Korean words for “apple” and “apology” are homonyms in its portrayal of a dog eating an apple, which was widely interpreted as likening the public to dogs.

The apology in question followed public criticism of Yoon’s comments about former authoritarian President Chun Doo-hwan, who he claimed conducted state affairs well -- aside from his brutal and deadly suppression of the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising and that he seized power through a coup. Ninbolt said that Yoon’s comments about Chun were what made him swiftly pivot from the initial project on life with COVID-19, taking the organizer by surprise. And the artist made sure that the late dictator’s portrait was part of the mural.

Ninbolt said that while he does not want to shy away from expressing his political views, he does want to wrap up this battle with Tanksy from the other side of the political spectrum in a positive note.

“From Saturday to Monday, Tanksy and I will engage in another art battle. This time we will glamorize the presidential candidate we support, so that this wall doesn’t remain a source of politicophobia or a political battleground,” Ninbolt told The Korea Herald on Thursday.

The wall of the Hong Gil-dong Secondhand Bookstore made headlines in July for its critical portrayal of a woman resembling Yoon’s spouse. Amid snowballing criticism, the wall was painted over.