Written by Josh Garcia
Photographs courtesy of Áine Byrne
There is an art to everything. It may reveal itself in the details of design, finesse, craft, presentation, or interpretation, but everything from your living room bookshelf to your next haircut holds an element of art. And for those of you who don’t believe there’s an art to falling down a set of stairs, I have some Chevy Chase videos to send your way. Now, the importance of art is just as much communal as it is internal, and Gwangju’s own shining example of this significance is found in the art classes at the Gwangju International Center (GIC), co-hosted by Áine Byrne.
The classes were first started in 2015 when Mariya Haponenko wanted to create something for the community that could bring together artists of all skill levels and interests. The GIC welcomed this idea with open arms and has since hosted the group on a regular basis. Although the GIC is self-funded and money can be scarce, the group is creative in stretching their resources as far as they can go. After Haponenko left, Áine, Jen Lee and Susan Sahab helped to keep the class going with the support of Min Park, and Jeong Sohee from the GIC, Lisa Causas, Jordan L. Matis and Rapib Hasan Apu.
Byrne explains, “We really listen to what people are interested in and try to cover anything we can: painting, figure drawing, paper art, water colors, flip books, printmaking, and so on. We even worked on mandalas as a form of art therapy.”
The group always keeps the community in mind and has no hesitation to return the favor whenever they are able, as fundraisers are regularly put into motion to raise money for local charities. “We even did dog portraits to raise money for the local dog shelter,” Byrne added.
Through the seasons and rotations of artists, the group keeps its focus fresh. They have utilized many of the talented and knowledgeable local artists around town to take over as temporary hosts and teachers and seem to always encourage a sense of openness and comradery. It is a place where friendships are made and new territory is charted. “So many people have talent, they just don’t exercise it,” Byrne tells me. “Some people may obsess over Realism, but it’s important to break the rules. It’s not about perfectionism. It’s about style.”
Áine Byrne is originally from Ireland and has always found herself drawn to the freedom of art. “As a teenager, I was obsessed with cartoons and fine art,” says Byrne, who attended the Fine Art School in Dublin, majoring in graphic design and minoring in illustration. She has since gone on to extensively create in the design world as well as the education sector. Since arriving in Gwangju two years ago, Byrne has found a sincere appreciation for what this city holds: “I feel especially amazed by Gwangju and the community here. There are so many people here that enjoy creating, but I also see a link between the art and the history of Gwangju.”
Shortly after arriving in Gwangju, Byrne visited the commemorative cemetery for those who were lost in the Gwangju Democratic Movement and took incredible inspiration from that into her art. “I wanted to get the story of those lost lives out there. So many people don’t really know the whole story of what happened here, and I wanted to get the story of Gwangju out to the people.”
As Byrne has continued to evolve with her approach to art, so have the art classes. “Jen Lee co-hosts with me, and I love collaborating with her. She has been there with the group just as long as I have, but we will be pairing up with the GIC Culture Class in the future to provide more options and reach more people.” Byrne has recently moved to Wando, and has continued to bring people together to explore new interests and find their groove with the Wando Language Exchange and Wando Capoeira Group.
Byrne is burning with ambition and passion for art, but she remains humble and eternally thankful for each opportunity she has to connect with others: “I’m just so grateful for Min Park and the GIC for always supporting us and being so helpful. She really is there for everything that comes out of the GIC.”
Catch the next art class by checking the GIC calendar online.
Josh Garcia is an English teacher who lives in Gwangju. He is a native Texan and uses most of his free time playing music and enjoying the outdoors.