75 Kang defected from the North in 1998 along with his family, and arrived in the South in 2001 at age 15, settling in the southeastern city of Miryang, near Busan. He began his formal art education four years ago at Hongik University in Seoul. While the experience has provided him with an introduction to new materials and techniques, Kang says that his style hasn’t changed much overall. What has remained consistent, however, is his passion for sharing his impres- sions of growing up in North Korea. As can perhaps be expected, the response to Kang’s work has been mixed. “My work seems to be attracting more interest in other countries,” he explains, referring to the coverage that his rap and artwork have garnered in such publi- cations as the Guardian and the Washington Post. “To be honest, it’s a sensitive issue in (South) Korea. The peninsula is still divided … (and) people (here) aren’t that happy about the work I do because of its political implications.” In South Korea, the decision to produce artwork critical of the government can sometimes have far-reaching consequences: The Park Geun-hye adminis- tration made international headlines last August after its censorship of a mural at the Gwangju Biennale spurred the resignation of the famed event’s president and cofounder. When asked about the impact of such an environment on his Though he insists that there are few real differences between North and South Koreans, Kang acknowledges that his unique circumstances do present some obstacles. “Just the fact that I’m from North Korea is a label that I’m stuck with no matter (what),” he explains. “They call us ‘talbukja’ (defectors). … That’s not a very nice word. But since people always call me by that label, in a manner of speaking, there’s probably going to still be discrimination. It’ll be that way for decades, I think.” The momentum of his appearance on Mnet’s “Show Me the Money” led to a well-attended exhibit in Insa-dong last August, an event that Kang said drew a number of South Koreans who were interested in learning more about the political complexities of the North. He finds this interest very encouraging, and is hopeful that his work can be a starting point for a more open conversation about the underrepresented victims of the Kim regime. artist peers at Hongik, Kang says he feels a lot of South Korean artists are afraid to follow their own artistic impulses out of a fear there won’t be a market for their work, leading them to stick to more mainstream or commercial output. He feels that direction isn’t for him, but also believes it’s not his place to tell other people how to express themselves creatively. Reflecting on what the future might bring for his career, Kang explains, “Peo- ple ask me whether I can make a living as an artist if I keep doing these paint- ings (of North Korea), but that doesn’t matter to me, since people in North Korea are still starving. … And people aren’t aware of that, even people here in South Korea.” Whether it’s through his scathing rap lyrics, the directness of his artwork or his volunteer work with the advocacy group Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, Kang does not appear to be intimidated by the prospect of what lies ahead. s t e e p l e a r n i n g C u r v e g a i n i n g m o m e n t u m