Art Club at Yeomyung School (Alternative School for North Korean students in Seoul)

When working at Google a few years ago, I connected with some North Korean students at Yeomyung school, one of the few private alternative schools for North Korean students who fled their country and currently live in Seoul. Some generous Googlers donated 70 flip cameras to the 68 students at the school and Tribeca Teaches connected with YeoMyung school to teach media literacy to these students who came from a country where all media was centered on state propaganda.

I visited a few times and stayed in close touch with a few students at the school. In particular, I connected with the school’s art club. The art teacher told me that many of the students who enrolled at the school refused to speak, socialize, or share much about their lives. After all, each one of the students went through horrific experiences of defecting from North Korea, some of them having been repatriated, tortured, or worse.  The art teacher said that art helped many of the students begin their journeys of healing. With permission, I took photos of some of the drawing and paintings made by some of the students. See below.

NPR story on Yeomyung School


Carefully look at the drawings around the tree roots; there are public executions, people being hanged, mothers and men toiling, soldiers beating people. These are the roots of children being raised in the communist state of North Korea.
I believe this is a drawing of the boy who defected from his country (and left his only family, his brother).
The title of this work roughly translates to “Like my insides, like my outsides” This work describes the emptiness and hollowness inside and outside of this student’s mind and body.
This drawing illustrates “kotjebi” (a Korean word that refers to North Korean homeless children, that literally translates into “swallows” because they are always searching for scrapes of food and shelter) begging for food while two North Korean soldiers drink.