Jun 23 2021

Nepotism Accusations Arise after South Korean President’s Son Receives Art Grant

by Gabrielle Tse

Portrait of MOON JOON-YONG. Image via Facebook.

Media artist Moon Joon-yong, son of South Korean president Moon Jae-in, faces allegations of benefiting from nepotism after accepting an art grant worth KRW 69 million (USD 61,000) from the publicly funded Arts Council Korea (ARKO).

An opposition party member from the People Power Party, legislator Bae Hyun-jin, spearheaded the allegations against Moon on June 21, at a plenary session of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Bae stated that Moon’s identity was revealed to the six judges, among whom are general managers and producers in cultural foundations, during a face-to-face interview for the art grant. Noting that the judges were elite members of South Korea’s art and cultural industry, Bae argued that it was necessary to “make sure that [Moon] did not receive preferential treatment through implicit pressure.” She added, “The citizens of South Korea will raise doubts on whether [Moon] was judged fairly.”

South Korea’s Minister of Culture, Sport, and Tourism, Hwang Hee, rose to Moon’s defense during the plenary session. Hwang asked, “Then should children of members of the National Assembly or high-ranking civil servants do nothing?” He also stated: “The president’s son should not receive extra benefits, but neither should he receive extra disadvantages.”

On the following day, Moon defended himself on his Facebook page, claiming that Bae was “insulting” the judges and “promoting distrust without any basis.” He challenged, “If you were one of the judges, Legislator Bae, would you really choose me just because I’m the president’s son if I were to lack the requisite skills?” Bae then responded in a Facebook post, calling for Moon to attend a state audit before the National Assembly, which will examine the fairness of Moon’s acceptance of the grant.

According to the announcement by ARKO, Moon is one of 24 artists, selected from over 100 applicants, who were awarded in the “Art and Technology Convergence Support Project Competition,” which was launched this spring by ARKO to “build a sustainable creative base in a rapidly changing societal and technological environment.” Moon’s work, Augmented Shadow – Children Who Chase the Light (2021), is one of 15 projects that were awarded approximately KRW 69 million (USD 61,000). According to Monthly Chosun, Moon stated in his interview that his work will resemble an escape-room game and will heavily involve augmented-reality (AR) technology and audience participation.

The media artist had courted a similar controversy last December, when he received an emergency art support fund worth KRW 14 million (USD 12,000) for damages caused by the impacts of the pandemic, and used the money to launch a solo exhibition at Keumsan Gallery, Seoul.

Gabrielle Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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