Pow! Wow! bombs Seoul with public art
When there is art, people come together. They bring their families, they bring their children, they want to be around it, they take photos. We focus on public art, and make the whole process open to the people.
In the process we can also change people’s perception of street art. ”
Contemporary art initiative Pow! Wow! returned to Seoul for its second year, bombing the streets with art and beautifying the areas around Konkuk University and Seongsu-dong in Seoul with massive multiple-story murals and live public art installations by top international and local artists chosen for their skillful artistry, community-driven sense of fun and desire to share their creative process with the public.
Under the direction of Andy Song, a freelance creative based in the U.S with a deep appreciation for all artistic endeavors, and who has been involved with the Korean edition of the event since it was introduced here in 2017, he aims to transform urban landscapes using the city walls as gigantic canvases for painters to create their own masterpieces in their unique styles, and expose the Seoul public to a wider range of creative works, accented by installations by artists such as Spenser Little, who is world renowned for intricate wire art sculptures, using only a single wire.
Created in 2011 by founder Jasper Wong, Pow! Wow! is a gathering of contemporary artists engaging with the broader community to make the process of creating art and music more public, and making art more accessible to more people.
It has grown into a global network of artists and organizes gallery shows, lecture series, schools for art and music, mural projects, public installation art, concerts, and live art installations educating young people in different creative pursuits.
In keeping with the aim of education, the festival kicked off Saturday Sept 21 with a creative workshop by LA-based international artist Joshua Vides — known for his black and white works that resemble 2d sketches — in collaboration with street wear brand Vans, at culture space Common Ground.
It continued with a plethora of art events, including special installations by Balloonski X Agos, along with music presented by 360SOUND ending off with a block party, live painting and live music performances on Saturday Sept. 28.
Wong, an artist, curator and illustrator and lead director of Pow! Wow!, started the festival as a way to bring artists and communities together in celebration of art, to educate people about art and music and to beautify communities.
Since its inception in 2011 the festival has been held in cities around the world including Honolulu, Austin, Washington, D.C., Long Beach, Lancaster, San Jose, Worcester, Kobe, Taipei, Venice and Rotterdam.
When Pow! Wow! first arrived in Seoul two years ago, street art was still in its infancy, and the reaction was mixed.
But, Andy Song, the regional director for Pow! Wow! Korea, says the reception of street art here has been changing rapidly for the positive.
The nonprofit, mural-centered event has been gaining traction since the first event here, and all involved this year hope to contribute to the momentum.
“Korea could be called a latecomer to the street art game, but you know how trends move fast. I think that’s what’s happening for street art and contemporary art here. When the festival first came to Korea, there was a huge gap between what we were trying to do for the community and the community response,” Song said.
“They didn’t know why we were doing what we were doing, why the walls were being painted … and finding walls around Seoul for the murals was the most challenging part, but after the first festival, people started recognizing us and what we are trying to do.”
Song’s relationship with Pow! Wow! goes back to 2013 in Hawaii where he developed the music education program called Pow Wow School of Music, and he has been the regional director for Korea since Seoul hosted its first Pow! Wow!
Song shares Wong’s love of art and is passionate about exposing the beauty of public art and its ability to adorn neighborhoods and cityscapes, and contribute to regeneration of communities.
“We are the biggest fans of art ourselves; we love to talk about art; we love to create art. All forms of art influence people’s attitudes and feelings when they see something beautiful in their surroundings. When there is art, people come together. They bring their families, they bring their children, they want to be around it, they take photos. We focus on public art, and make the whole process open to the people. In the process we can also change people’s perception of street art.”
The name of the festival was coined by Wong. While the event shares the same values as the Native American concept of a “pow wow” which is a gathering to celebrate culture with singing, dancing and connecting with the community, Wong is also a big fan of comic culture and that is where the name stems from.
“In comics, Pow! is when you punch someone and Wow! is the reaction. For us, Pow! is the impact of art and Wow! is the reaction of people who experience of art,” Song explained.
The artists chosen all share the same values as the organization. As it is a nonprofit event, artists are chosen carefully for their desire to offer themselves and share their art with the community.
Both renowned artists as well as up-and-coming “creatives” are hand selected to give them a platform to showcase their work and be a part of the growing Pow! Wow! family.
“Some of these guys are highly paid contemporary artists, but they’re coming in with the mindset of helping and supporting. So that when they come they can enjoy what we are doing. These artists are doing commission work all year round but they’re stoked to take a week or two from their busy year to do this. We encouraged people to hang around and whenever artists are not heavily focused or working we encourage them to talk to the artists and get involved,” Song said.
International visiting artists include Amy Sol, Rostarr, Joshua Vides, Suitman, Hitotzuki, Balloonski, Spenser Little, Insa, Zebu, Exto-X and Kimchi Juice. The local artist lineup include Joo Jae Bum, Novo, Sticky Monster Lab, Kay2, Joday, GR1, Vo Eun, Agos, Semi TR and So Youn Lee.
Local featured artist So Youn Lee was born and raised in Korea and then went to the States to attend art school.
She describes her work as “different but strangely familiar” and sees art as a way “to explore who you really are and have fun with it.”
While she finds fashion collaborations the most fun — she collaborated with Aldo on the MX3 sneakers last year — canvases are her main medium. While she is here for Pow! Wow! she is bringing her distinctive dreamy style to the festival in the form of live mural painting.
Each artist brings their own energy, motivation and life experiences to their work, and express it on their chosen form of canvas.
“I’ve had great opportunities living in two different cultures and travel around the world. It helped me reflect some beliefs that I have were not really mine, but cultural — and those belief sometimes, can be very narrow minded. The desires to be free from those deep-rooted prejudices pushes me to paint something that I want and ask myself why I am so attracted to certain shapes and colors.”
Her distinctive style will certainly be a welcome adornment to the streets of Seoul, but it is the community aspect that drew her to participate.
“To me, Pow Wow is about connecting people with art. Personally I enjoy find art in most unexpected settings. Being a part of Pow! Wow! as an artist is magical. It’s like I’m opening a portal to another world on a wall with paint for the community and people,” she said.
Some of her work is currently being exhibited at Gallery Stan in Seoul.
All mediums of art are embraced and celebrated through the event, and an interesting addition to the artist lineup is balloon artist “Balloonski,” who is gaining popularity for his massive balloon art installations that take inspiration from pop culture.
“What I have realized about Pow! Wow! is that it’s really about the community. There are a lot of amazing artists involved in the festival and every single time people are just drawing and doing what they love, and I can’t draw — I can draw with balloons — but balloons in general will take you back to this good feeling, so when I make giant balloon sculptures and throw it into a crowd, everybody turns into a three year old and you can’t buy that feeling. It’s a childlike joy.”
Speaking about his Balenciaga “Triples” balloon sculpture on display at the Pow! Wow! lounge at Common Ground, he says this sneaker series goes back to a sense of community and belonging again.
“When you look at it, you know exactly what it means. And if you know what it is, it means you’re here, you’re in 2019, it’s a kind of cultural marker, you recognize.”
To learn about more of the artists, and to find more for more information, visit www.powwow.kr
Joshua Vides paints a multiple-story wall in Seongsu-dong, while balancing on a crane.
Insa puts the finishing touches on a gigantic mural.