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Posted by on Dec 12, 2011

The DMZ in Korea: from tragedy to conservation to bottled water


I had written a blog postover a year ago about the DMZ between North and South Korea as a nature preserve due to it’s lack of human contact for 60 years. The small strip of land between the two countries is so heavily fortified and mined that humans cannot pass through. Hence, for 60 years this stretch of land has not known human encroachment. Environmentally, this is wonderful as it has turned into a sancturary for some rare speciess of plants and animals. 

Historically and culturally, the DMZ acts like the Berlin Wall did for Germans during their separation: a reminder, however fleeting, of their divisions as people and as a country. Traditionally that reminder has been (and mostly still is) painful. Something so prominent in a cultural memory is almost always reclaimed for something else. It has to be transformed from its negative association; our collective unconscious demands a transformation from such overwhelming negativity to something more positive. Or at least nuanced. 

In a bizarre (but logical) appropriation of a negative historical symbol of a very costly war, I am now seeing products in Seoul being labeled as pure, fresh, & natural as the DMZ. Hence this picture of DMZ bottled water. Complete with a barbed wire fence in the label (look closely). The DMZ as symbol of division remains so; now, however, it is tempered with another symbol that might seemingly run askew from the first. The DMZ as wellspring of all things natural. Creative? Yes. Playful? Sure. Disingenous? No. 


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