Photography of Civil Unrest from Gangjeong, South Korea

Posted by Ashley Johnston on Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 4:29 PM

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Alpha Newberry, native Memphian and documentary photographer, recently came home from South Korea due to legal troubles resulting from his activities chronicling the sensitive politics surrounding construction of a naval base there.

Jeju, a volcanic island 50 miles southeast of South Korea’s mainland comprises three UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Natural Heritage sites - places of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity - including an extensive system of lava tubes. For more than four years, island residents and peace activists have put up a determined resistance to the creation of a naval base there, in the village of Gangjeong.

In January 2011, the South Korean Navy began construction of the $970 million base, to be completed in 2014. The navy says that the base will be used to protect shipping lanes for South Korea’s export-driven economy, and also provide a new outlet for tourism. It will host up to 20 American and South Korean warships, including submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers, several of which would be fitted with the Aegis ballistic-missile defense system.

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But many villagers and activists from the Korean mainland suspect that the naval base will serve less as a shield against North Korea than as an outpost for the U.S. Navy to project its power against China, as the Defense Ministry will permit American ships cruising East Asian seas to temporarily visit the port. Opponents of the base also claim that it will cause environmental degradation on the beautiful island.

"Exile: Photographs by Alpha Newberry" will showcase Newberry's photos at the Joysmith Gallery in the South Main arts district, with an opening reception on January 13th from 6:30-9 p.m. Originally shown in Korea, the exhibition will run until January 28th. The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center will take place in the opening as part of their 30th anniversary celebration. Dr. Noam Chomsky, political theorist, activist, and institute professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is scheduled to speak at the First Congregational Church on Cooper St. the next day, and, having written about the issue himself, hopes are high that he will also be in attendance.

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