It’s hard to imagine a place like Ihwa Mural Village existing in Seoul, which is why I’m so happy it does exist in this crazy, bustling, bali-bali city. It has a quieter, serene atmosphere, with a focus on local community and beauty. In a metropolis where all the skyscrapers begin to take on the same, dull shapes and cold, gray colors, Ihwa is colorful and intimate.
Much like Busan’s Gamcheon Culture Village, the village has more impoverished origins. Generally, those workers who could not afford houses in the flatter, more central parts of Seoul lived in places like Ihwa, located along hills and at the bases of mountains. In Ihwa, it was most textile factory workers. Even as Seoul industrialized quickly, the village stayed more or less the same, leading to plans for demolition after the nineties.
Interestingly enough (and God bless whoever had this fantastic idea because I cannot imagine it was agreed upon without a ton of resistance), instead of demolition in 2006, Seoul decided to commission a bunch of artists to create different installations with the theme of “Mix, Connect, and Get Together.” They overall created about sixty-four. After this first round brought on too much clutter and trash from tourists and subsequently complaints from the residents, the city destroyed many of the murals, presumably finding the art project a failure.
However, in 2013 they assembled more artists, including university students, to create more installations, resulting in over a hundred works. There is now an emphasis on respecting both the privacy of residents as well as maintaining the quiet atmosphere. Residents have opened restaurants, galleries, and cafes, with all proceeds benefiting the village itself, and even while Ihwa has grown, it has seemed to avoid the bali-bali growth of its neighbors and maintained its own, steady speed. As one of the artists involved, Lim Young-Suk, said, “We need to be analog, not digital.”
The place is still very much off the beaten path for Seoul and Korea visitors, although I can see it growing more popular in the future. Often times my Korean friends have not heard of it let alone any of my friends visiting from abroad for the first time. But just as I found Gamcheon to be utterly charming, I find Ihwa Mural Village to be wonderfully sweet and a lovely escape from the bustling city. Also, you know, it is used in quite a few drama filmings so, if you’re a K-drama fan, you might recognize some of the art!
How to Get to Ihwa Mural Village
- Get off at Hyehwa Station on Line 4, Exit 2.
- Walk towards Marronier Park and then take a left after you pass it.
- Walk straight towards Naksan Park until you come across the murals.
When in doubt, there will definitely be some Korean couples out on a date here, so follow them!
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Have you heard of Ihwa Mural Village? What are some of your favorite off the beaten path places?
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