The largest community of North Korean defectors is found in Surrey. Peter Dench talks to Catherine Hyland, who has documented them Despot, tyrant, oppressor, Kim fatty the third, nuke kid on the block – there are many derogatory terms to describe North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. The secretive […]
Hyland’s project comprises a series of stills and a short film that takes the viewer inside The Korean Senior Citizen Society – scenes of eating, laughing, piano playing, making tea, medical treatments, drumming and playing cards show an inclusive place of support and togetherness where memories of home and circumstances of the present can be shared. These intimate moments are interspersed in the film between traditional acts performed by the society’s dance group and choir.
The defectors, dressed impeccably in traditional costume, dance elegantly with splayed fans and sing from cerise-coloured song books. There is an overriding sense of joy but close-ups reveal eyes that have seen never-to-be-forgotten horrors: ‘When you woke up, there would have been more deaths overnight and bodies would be rolling around outside,’ recalls a performer referring to Arduous March, a period of mass starvation and economic crisis from 1994-1998.