Case Study in Korean Hip Hop Culture
It is largely agreed that modern hip-hop culture has most of its roots in the United States, born out of elements such as African-American identity, minority outcries, poverty, inner-city society and youth movements.
In Korea, however, the largely homogenous population finds itself in a completely different situation. While old maxims like ‘art is not peace, but war’ have often been used to explain hip-hop culture in the U.S., one observes a completely different attitude taking shape in Korea within the last decade as hip-hop culture has developed into a uniquely Korean way of life.
Hip-hop in Korea has seen many different reactions from the public, including social hesitation. It has only been strongly integrated into popular Korean culture for the last 5 to 10 years at most, as opposed to at least 20 to 30 years in the United States.
BFMin, a graffiti artist now well known within the Korean hip-hop community, was among the first big names to emerge as part of Korea’s hip-hop movement in the late 1990s. I sat down to interview him in July 2007 to find out what his inspirations and perceptions are in regards to hip-hop culture, and to shed some light on the fascinating changes that are taking place within East Asian popular culture.
How would you define graffiti? Do you believe your work is part of a so-called ‘global hip-hop culture’?
‘I largely see graffiti as a set of painting techniques that represent an individual’s artistic expressions. There are three main types of graffiti designs: character pieces, realistic pieces and text pieces. I most often do text pieces, of which there are four styles: 2D, 3D, Wild Style and Old School. I love Wild Style the most, which involves very colorful designs. I have a personal theme that I like to involve in my work