Just a ten minutes uphill walk along Seoul city wall near Daehakno district sits the Ihwa Mural Village. Climbing away from the city, the air clears, the noise stills and suddenly as you reach the very top of Mount Naksan you find a village dedicated to something quite unexpected; street art.
Eleven years ago, Ihwa ‘moon village’ (so called because of it’s fantastic hill-side views of the moon) had been destined for destruction, due to it being rather run down and slum-like. Historically, moon villages were homes to the working class, who couldn’t afford housing down in the flatter, central parts of the city.
The village was saved in 2006 by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, who decided to transform the village as part of their ‘Art in the City’ initiative. Artists selected by the committee were commissioned to design 64 installations under the theme of ‘Mix, Connect and Get Together’. Over the course of six months, 70 painters (including local volunteers, art college students and visiting artists) covered the village from schools to homes, underpasses to stairways, walls, fences and rooftops with beautiful and diverse murals.
After having become something of a tourist attraction the once slum-like village is now very well maintained and clean. With illustrated maps showing where various street art can be found there are photo ops a-plenty, both from the murals themselves and of the stunning views of Seoul city down below. If you are so inclined, you can really get into the theatrics of things and rent a traditional Korean school uniform or Hanbok to wander around the village in.
There’s a sort of hipster-street cool vibe about the place thanks to the village’s popularity with Korean teenagers. Many local street artists have now based themselves in the village, meaning that the art emerging there is born from the heart of the neighbourhood itself.
Ihwa is a great place to wile away an afternoon, meandering up and down the steep stairways, stopping off in vibrant galleries and chilling in quaint cafes where you can sip on a coffee and nibble on mochi, or Korean sweet potato.
Unfortunately, some of the residents of Ihwa were not so keen on the new-found popularity that the art brought to their once modest village. Although the art ‘saved’ the village, it also resulted in flocks of visitors who came with graffiti, litter and noise. This had a massive impact on the small community. Much of the original art was removed at the request of local residents.
Since then a better balance has been struck between visitors and residents, and many more murals have been painted by student artists from colleges across Korea. Many of these enterprises directly support the Ihwa community, to help keep the peace between tourism and residents, just remember to be quiet and respectful of peoples property at all times.
How to get there
Take the subway line 4 to Hyehwa Station and depart at Exit 2. Walk straight until you reach the Lock Museum. After 50 meters, turn right on to Naksan Gongson-gil street then walk until you reach Naksan Park.
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Have been to Ihwa mural village in Seoul? What was your experience? If you have any good suggestions for Haute Culture readers then please share your advice in the comments below as we would love to hear from you!