▲ The reproduction working environment of that time, Photographed by Nam Hye Bin
A famous Korean writer, Park Wan-seo, has a deep love toward Korea’s Pyounghwa market and even mentions in her essay, Two Pyounghwa Markets, “If I had to mention one reason to live in Seoul, without a doubt, it would be the joy of shopping in Pyounghwa Market.” Dongdaemun Pyounghwa Market is the starting point of the so-called Dongdaemun fashion, which represents people’s thoughts that Dongdaemun is a center of fashion. Made in Cheonggyecheon, The Pyounghwa Market, Where Dongdaemun Fashion Begins is an exhibition that sheds new light on the past and the present of the market, and stories of people’s dreams at that time. Since the Korean word Pyounghwa means peace in English, this exhibition seems to focus on the voices for peace at that time, and the beautiful efforts people have made that all contributed to the form of today’s Pyounghwa Market.
Made in Cheonggyecheon, The Pyounghwa Market, Where Dongdaemun Fashion Begins aims to introduce the labor and sacrifice of labor workers who led the unrivaled Dongdaemun fashion. As the name of the exhibition tells, it takes place at the Cheonggyecheon museum, near Pyounghwa Market. The exhibition consists of four sections — the birth of the place, glory days as the center of distribution of clothes, Stories of people at that time, and changes to the Pyounghwa Market. On each part of the hall, there are written explanations that fit the section name, along with vivid videos and reproductions.
The Birth and Growth of Pyounghwa Market
The exhibition starts by explaining how the market initially started. In the 1960s, the number of unauthorized street vendors increased and the “Pyounghwa Market Sangwoo Association” was created concurrently. This led to the gradual growth of commercial supremacy, which became the starting point of today’s Pyounghwa Market. People gathered in shantytowns near Cheonggyecheon and made clothes, using sewing machines, to sell them for a living.
Along with the development of the clothing industry in the 1960s and 1970s, the market occupied a great part in the domestic market. Behind those glorious scenes were the day-to-day sacrifices of workers. In each section of the exhibition hall, there are pictures of that time that raise awareness of the people’s sweat and hard work. However, despite this glory, there were also some problems in relation to safety. There were frequent fires in dense shanty houses, which caused serious damages. Especially, a fire accident in 1959 resulted in a large ruin. Accordingly, the “Reconstruction committee for Pyounghwa shopping area” was formed and eventually succeeded in building a three-story building in 1961. The success contributed to the better development of the market by securing people’s safety.
Small Wishes and Hopes
Shin Soon-ae, a former Pyounghwa Market handler claims, “I was very proud to think that my work would help my home.” Sewing techniques were almost the only skills that young people who did not get proper education could acquire. The manual skill, the industry, and the place itself must have been young people’s very wish and hope in that it was the only way of earning money and becoming successful. The notion that the work and industry is their hope made people work with more passion, which is well revealed in interview videos that describe people’s attitudes toward the job. Moreover, through representational spaces in the exhibition, people can also feel the social and historical moments and sympathize with the people of that time.
The Site of Voice of Reform and Noble Spirit
At the center of the exhibition hall, there is a reappearance of a sewing factory. At first glance, the overall scene gives a warm impression through the orange and brown color scheme, but a closer look reveals the poor conditions of the labor scene. In order to increase productivity, people intended to make the entire workspace very small and even installed a ladder inside. The height of the ceiling was only 1.5 meters, which did not even enable workers to stand up.
▲ Voices claiming for human rights, Photographed by Nam Hye Bin
There is an important historical figure in relation with the inferior work environment, which is introduced in the exhibition. Jeon Tae-il, a young man who worked at a clothing factory in Cheonggyecheon at that time, visited the labor office and spoke out for the injustice in the working environment, but he was repeatedly rejected. In June 1969, he made a stand by initiating a labor movement but was ignored again. Unfortunately, this led to his self- immolation in the entrance of Pyounghwa Market on November 13, 1970.
His death holds significance even until today since it has raised the labor problem as an important issue. After his death, serious problems in work environment have received the spotlight from numerous media reports. Accordingly, people’s raised awareness in related issues led to the creation of the Cheonggye Clothing Labor Union on November 27, 1970. Cheonggyecheon and Pyounghwa Market are places with great importance in that they contain the sacred history of such labor struggles and sacrifice. These historical movements, and voices of striving people attach even greater significance to the name of the Pyounghwa Market.
▲ A representational space of working environment, Photographed by Nam Hye Bin
The exhibition is not just about Dongdaemun fashion or some techniques for making clothes as it appears at first glance. The whole experience in the exhibition hall tells people about the hard work of that time and how that contributed to the growth of the fashion industry. More than that, it seems like the exhibition is trying to convey a message to the viewers that peace and human rights should be considered crucially in a working environment.
Title: Made in Cheonggyecheon, The Pyounghwa Market, Where Dongdaemun Fashion Begins
Venue: Cheonggyecheon Museum
Period: From August 23, 2019, to November, 24, 2019
Opening Hours: 9:00 A.M. to 19:00 P.M. (From Tuesday to Friday) 9:00 A.M. to 18:00 A.M. (On Saturday, Sunday, and National Holidays)