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[Opinion] Rescue Ulsan Wall Painting

Posted November. 01, 2001 08:50,   


When examining the world famous wall paintings, they all have one thing in common. Every painting is located in beautiful mountains and near clean waters. Prehistoric people have left their marks on the cliffs of the Baikal Lake in Siberia, Amul River, the rocks on the shores of Norway beaches and in Sweden. It was necessary to choose supremely beautiful and mystical locations for these paintings where these ancestors gathered to offer sacrifices which guaranteed the success of the hunt.

Our country’s representative ancient wall painting (am gak hwa) in Ulsan is situated in the most beautiful and fantastic place in the world. Standing at the peak of a mountain circled by nine gorges, the am gak hwa was where the Hwarang trained in the Shilla period, Jung Mong-Joo was exiled in the Koryo period, and the literati poets and artists held their poetry readings in the Choson period. It is even mentioned in the genius painter Kyumjae Jungsun`s piece on natural places of exceptional beauty.

This place where our prehistoric ancestors gathered to worship and honored throughout history is now in trouble. The Korea Local Authorities Foundation For International Relations (KLAF) plans to develop the area so that tourists can overrun the place. In response, thoughtful NGOs and people in the academy are directly opposing the measure. Ulsan City taking care of and developing the place is in itself not a bad thing. In fact, doing so in an environmentally friendly way would be truly welcome. However, if the development leads to hundreds of buses and cars crowding the narrow valleys and countless tourists filling up the nine valleys of this mystical mountain will destroy this cultural treasure and must be stopped.

Ruining the unmatched beauty and mysteriousness of the environment will destroy the life of the wall painting. It is, therefore, imperative that the surrounding environment be carefully maintained in order to preserve the Ulsan am gak hwa.

Ulsan city must understand this about the am gak hwa and elicit the help of NGOs and academics.

The Ulsan am gak hwa is actually a magnificent epic poem painted directly on the walls by our prehistoric ancestors. The 10m wall painting in Tae Kok Ri has paintings of whales, deer, boars, birds with the hunters and fishermen chasing their game. On the 10m wall paintings in Chun Jun Ri, there are animal figures and geometric pictograms like squares and concentric circles filling the cliff wall. Both paintings occupy a scenic spot 1 km away from each other.

Such paintings of hundreds of different kinds of pictures and figures are hard to find in any part of the world and are considered historically important sites. The international academic community, therefore, have special interest in our two wall paintings and the nation regards them as the most important national treasures.

The only way to save the Ulsan am gak hwa is for the country to cancel the large scale development plans and implement a measure for maintaining the site.

First, only one or two stores and basic parking facilities should be allowed in the am gak hwa area with its village, nature trails, and the remains of Ban-ko-sa where the great Buddhist priest Won Hyo resided. The remaining areas should be kept as a sacred place of natural beauty.

Second, facilities that will protect the Chun Jun Ri am gak hwa from floods and the elements must be implemented.

Third, the water level around the Tae Kok Ri am gak hwa has to be lowered or a blockade must be built in order to protect it from water and frost damage, and make it possible for people to see it year round.

The Cultural Properties Administration, which is responsible for policies on cultural properties, must not just sit around but directly prevent Ulsan City`s development, officially designate the am gak hwa area as a national conservation area, put its effort into conserving the site, and prevent such developments from occurring in the future.

Moon Myung-Dae (Tongguk University Professor, Buddhist Art History)