Curator_Hiroyuki Nobuto

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Hiroyuki Nobuto / Male / 29 / Osaka , Japan.
Research Fellow at Urban Research Plaza, Osaka City University.

 My stay in Seoul Art Space, Geumcheon, was from 30th April to 11th June 2012. During my time in Seoul, I focused on the nursing home complex for the Sakhalin Koreans in the outskirts of Seoul. It houses more than one thousand elderly Koreans from Sakhalin, Russia. Unfortunately, they only receive a small amount of financial aid from the government and it is too small to have a good quality of life.

I interviewed Mr. An (84) who now lives in the nursing home in Seoul. Mr. An, was born in Seoul but lived in Japan for several years. In Japan, he used the name “Yasu-ura” but this was only as a requirement for Japanese society where Japanese-Koreans must assume a Japanese name. He said this was a typical fate for non-Japanese people. After his time in Japan, he moved to Sakhalin where he met his wife. She was born in North Korea. They had two sons together but he told me that their life in Sakhalin was very tough.

He said that it was hard to become a part of the small community and it was difficult to forge relationships, they were unable to form any friendships with the others in the community. His wife also suffers from depression due to both the loneliness and anxiety caused by their time there.

In 1994, the South Korean government allowed Korean citizens from Sakhalin permanent residency and now many people have returned to South Korea. Mr. and Mrs. An returned to Seoul seven years ago. I tried to interview Mrs. An too but she speaks Japanese, Korean and Russian and would often confuse the three when talking to people. It was also hard to understand her background as she is a very private person. I did find out that her identity is mixed by the many different cultures from her time in North Korea, Sakhalin and South Korea.

Mr. An has a gloomy view of his current situation, he said “life here is not normal and the government policies are unfair for us, my life always feel so full of sorrow”. In my opinion, I think his personality and background in South Korea, Japan and Sakhalin made him feel this way. There are many differences in the countries and thier cultures and this has taken a toll on his well-being. But it is not only him and his wife who feel this way, all the residents do.

I believe they are a good target for social inclusion and the government needs to provide more support for them. What I mean by this is that they need an opportunity to participate in society. I think that community arts projects are good for people in environments like theirs. People in their situation don’t have any motivation and generally feel very low. Mr. and Mrs. An can’t join the community within the nursing home and all the residents are unable to join the wider South Korean community. I think they need a way to participate socially and they need more support for their mental health and lifestyle. I want to focus on this problem by using arts and culture.

One thing I discovered about the residents is that they love music. They always listened to music from their past and they want to play music too. Mr. An always played “Melodica” for me when I visited. This could be one way to encourage them to participate in the community. Projects involving art and culture have shown to be effective for self-empowerment, encouragement and social participation.

There are two prime examples of this in the UK. One is from a local theatre group called the “Savvy Theatre Company” and they have a project for adults with disabilities. I visited them from November to December 2011 and it was extremely impressive.

Of course, it was hard for them to start as they had no self-confidence. When they first go to the Savvy Theatre Company, they are scared to talk to anyone, they look at the floor and nobody wants to make eye contact. But then they begin to practice and day by day, they change. At first, they have no confidence but gradually after practicing, they realise that they can do it and they gain a lot confidence in their ability. They think “I can do it, I can make people happy and it makes me happy too”. They practiced for three weeks before performing in front of an audience and when they finally performed, they felt like a part of the theatre community and part of the larger society. I think this is an excellent example of social inclusion.

Another group use the same method. They are called “Streetwise Opera” and they work with homeless people in a shelter. Being homeless disconnects them from society and it is hard to interact with the community. I think they often feel very isolated. But after they practice, it helps them feel like part of the community again. They even performed at the Olympic games. Projects like this allow them to re-enter the community and encourage them to do it themselves by doing something they enjoy to create an original performance.

From projects like these two in London, we can learn how to encourage participation in society. Now, what we need is for the government to provide backing to these methods of social inclusion as soon as possible, along with more arts and culture in community centres and care facilities.

Now, Seoul is focusing on being a creative city and is it part of the “Creative Cities Network”, a project started by UNESCO in 2010. South Korea is becoming more creative and I hope the government will start projects to reach out to communities like the nursing home I visited. I want to visit there again in future and work with new community projects to create a better life for the residents. I also hope to do more research with Seoul Art Space, Geumcheon.