Year founded: 1995
Organiser: Gwangju Biennale Foundation


Founded in 1995 in memory of spirits of civil uprising of the 1980 repression of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea is Asia's oldest biennial of contemporary art.

For the last twenty-three years, the Gwangju Biennale has emerged as a network for international cultural exchanges and a platform for the visual arts, while producing discourses on contemporary art.

Located in the South West of the Korean peninsula, Gwangju has been known for its historical tradition of art and culture. For the past few decades, especially amongst foreign intellectuals, Gwangju city has been acknowledged as the heart of the democratic revolution for the 5.18 Gwangju Democratization Movement – the people’s uprising against the military dictatorship in May 1980. Inheriting the city’s long cultural heritage and aiming to heal the traumatic history of the May 1980 uprising through aesthetic means, the Gwangju Biennale was established in the mid-1990s.

Though contemporary Korean art had experienced delays in its development for over twenty years, it is undeniable that the Gwangju Biennale has contributed to its budding progress and to the emergence of Korean art on the international stage. The Gwangju Biennale, as such, has been a driving force for the contemporary art of Korea and an agent linking the arts throughout the globe.

Embodying the general value of human civilization through the medium of the visual arts, the Gwangju Biennale continues to disseminate messages of democracy, human rights, and peace throughout Asia and the world, as well as within local communities.


12th Gwangju Biennale
Imagined Borders

September 07, 2018 to November 11, 2018

The 12th Gwangju Biennale saw 165 artists from 43 different countries participate in a series of seven exhibitions and the GB Commission exploring the political, cultural, physical and emotional concepts of borders in today’s global community. For this edition of the Gwangju Biennale, a collective of 11 curators from around the world devised a program of thematic exhibitions, in addition to a monumental new program, the GB Commission and a series of Pavilion Projects taking place across the city of Gwangju. The curators have brought their diverse perspectives and expertise to the Biennale and collaborated on projects inspired by the concept of Imagined Borders. The increase in global visibility for Asian artists was represented through this expanded program of artists from across the continent; including Thailand-born filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival; Shilpa Gupta who explores Asian identity in his work; Ho Tzu Nyen whose Singapore Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale brought an immersive, panoramic view of pre-colonial Singapore to the Italian island; and Yoshimoto Nara, pioneer of Japanese pop art participated in the 12th Gwangju Biennale.

11th Gwangju Biennale
What is the essence of art in this age?

September 02, 2016 to November 06, 2016

The 11th edition of Gwangju Biennale poses a profound question: “What is the essence of art in this age?”
Curated by the curatorial team consisting of the artistic director Maria Lind, curator Binna Choi, and assistant curators Azar Mahmoudian, Margarida Mendes and Michelle Wong, the 2016 Gwangju Biennale will direct its attention to artworks and projects while addressing the agency of art in terms of the question, “What does art do?” This year’s exhibit will place art center-stage with an emphasis on its projective and imaginative capacities, its connection with the future in midst of daily life and struggles for survival in the present, and how it lands in different contexts throughout society. In collaboration with Mite Ugro, the local curatorial associate, GB11 organizes the monthly gatherings with various activities, screening, reading group, seminar with the participating artists. This year’s exhibition will maximize community participation and introduce art into the depths of our society. The Gwangju Biennale has been partnering with art galleries around the world known as the “biennale fellows”. Through this, Gwangju will be a place to witness the lively, global cultural scene. Ultimately, the objective is for the local public to converge with the international world in order to unlock the infinite potential of art and imagination. With the Gwangju Biennale Exhibition Hall being one of the city’s main locale, the Gwangju Biennale will encourage public participation across the city of Gwangju and beyond.

10th Gwangju Biennale
Burning Down the House

September 05, 2014 to November 09, 2014

The 2014 Gwangju Biennale explores the process of dynamism and innovation through the theme of Burning Down the House, to examine the new aesthetic value and the discourses on Asianness. Burning Down the House looks at the resistance and challenge against established institutions, as well as creative destruction and new start, so that cultural diversity is expressed through traditional forms of art, installation art, performance, new media, movie, theater, music and architecture. The theme comes from the famous song title of a popular progressive group called Talking Heads from New York during the early 1980s, which has been borrowed because it suitably delivers the direction and purpose of the 2014 Gwangju Biennale. It is notable that large numbers of performances have been introduced in order to display the dynamism, including movement for transformation and reform, criticism against customs and institutions, political interventions and creative acts. In addition, about half of Asian artists attended reflecting the prestige of Gwangju Biennale, which has been exploring the Asian value and Asianness during the past twenty years as Asia’s largest biennale, aiming to deliver the discourses on art by including the Third World countries like South America rather than focusing on Europe.

9th Gwangju Biennale

September 07, 2012 to November 11, 2012

While it operates simultaneously on many levels, one thing is quite clear: ROUNDTABLE, the 9th Gwangju Biennale, is not about unanimity. It is instead an open-ended series of collaborations that require active participation and individual responsibility, resulting in a multiplicity of voice, as well as opportunities for cross-contamination.

Beyond metaphor, ROUNDTABLE simultaneously describes the working relationship of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale’s six Co-Artistic Directors (Nancy Adajania, Wassan Al-Khudhairi, Mami Kataoka, Sunjung Kim, Carol Yinghua Lu, and Alia Swastika), the conversational interaction of its six sub-themes, and its non-linear structure.

8th Gwangju Biennale
10000 Lives

September 03, 2010 to November 07, 2010

Under Massimiliano Gioni’s direction 10,000 Lives was developed as a sprawling investigation of the relationships that bind people to images and images to people. With works by more than 100 artists, realized between 1901 and 2010, as well as several new commissions, the exhibition was configured as a temporary museum in which both artworks and cultural artifacts are brought together to compose an idiosyncratic catalogue of figures and icons, faces and masks, idols and dolls.

The exhibition title is borrowed from Maninbo (10,000 Lives), the 30-volume epic poem by Korean author Ko Un. Conceived while Ko was in prison for his participation in the 1980 South Korean democratization movement, Maninbo comprises over 4,000 portraits in words, describing every person Ko has ever met, including figures from history and literature.

7th Gwangju Biennale
Annual Report: A Year in Exhibitions

September 05, 2008 to November 09, 2008

The 7th Gwangju Biennale was comprised of a series of selected traveling exhibitions invited to use the biennale as a destination, a stop on the touring itinerary in the global exhibition network. By inviting exhibitions to the Biennale, the aim was not simply to make an exhibition about exhibitions or to debate the principles of curatorial culture, rather, exhibitions are understood here as fundamental expressions of cultural and intellectual practice, and as such have gone beyond being understood as a form of reflection or forum of debate for art. The programme was divided into three main strands: “On the Road,”a collection of traveling exhibitions that were produced elsewhere in 2006/2007; “Position Papers” involved curators in dialogue; and “Insertions” featured works and events specially commissioned for Gwangju.

The Artistic Director was Okwui Enwezor, and the Co-Curators were Hyunjin Kim and Ranjit Hoskote.

6th Gwangju Biennale
Fever Variations

September 08, 2006 to November 11, 2006

Asia is changing. Asia is constantly moving and expanding with no definitive form of identity. It is not the fantasy in the minds of the West; the fantasy of New Asia is born from the mobile and dynamic Asia. “Fever,” the keyword of the 2006 Gwangju Biennale, is derived from the Latin for “heat”, but culturally or poetically, it means a hot trend or phenomenon. The intention was to reorganize and reinterpret contemporary art from the perspective of Asia´s new energy of change and its dynamic vision that is spreading like a fever. The Artistic Director was Kim Hong-hee, Wu Hung was Chief Curator of The First Chapter and Kim Sang-yun was the Chief Programmer of The Third Sector.

5th Gwangju Biennale
A Grain of Dust A Drop of Water

September 10, 2004 to November 13, 2004

‘Curated by Yongwoo Lee and Co-Curated by Kerry Brougher and Sukwon Chang, the 5th Gwangju Biennale acted as a cultural forum experimenting with the elevation of the spectator from passive observer to active participant by working collaboratively to produce works of art with the biennale’s selected artists. A Grain of Dust A Drop of Water is a vital natural phenomenon and ecological interpretation of order describing the cycle of creation and extinction. Dust suggests noise and cries, covers the objects of our conspicuous consumption that are remains of our industrial society. A drop of water suggests the medium of creation, animates the inanimate thus allowing the cycle of life. Dust, together with water, heals the negative elements of the contemporary society, thus revitalizing the new cultural and aesthetic values in the present world.

4th Gwangju Biennale

March 29, 2002 to June 29, 2002

Curated by Charles Esche, Hou Hanru and Sung Wan Kyung, the theme of the 4th Gwangju Biennale, P_A_U_S_E, was adopted from the Eastern concept of meditation to encourage mankind to withdraw from the rigors of contemporary society and prepare for a new leap forward. The exhibition invited the participation of non-profit and experimental art groups and movements from throughout the world to promote communication, and to propose a withdrawal from the narrative of modern art history, even from modern society itself, in an effort to build a new way forward.

3rd Gwangju Biennale
Man and Space

March 29, 2000 to June 07, 2000

“人 (Man)” is a pictograph that symbolizes a standing man, and implies that man is the most precious among creatures, while the pictograph “間 (Space)” originally symbolizes the gap between doors. In a broader sense, it is used to refer to distance, relationships, intervals, the center, a border, or contact. In terms of culture, “人(man)”, alongside “間 (Space),” represents man as a social being by deconstructing and rebuilding the original meaning of each pictograph. In this way, the theme of Man+Space was an attempt to dismantle all past contradictions and divisions in human lives and construct a new notion of living.

Man and Space was curated by Kwangsu Oh.

2nd Gwangju Biennale
Unmapping the Earth

September 01, 1997 to November 27, 1997

While the visual concept of negative space often manifests itself in a limited manner in Western art, it is almost omnipresent in the East, and is most easily defined as the space that is left around the characters and images in a composition. Despite the connotations of the word “negative” it also holds the implication of possibility, new creation, and new creativity. In a broader sense, it can represent resistance against encroaching modern society and the destruction of the primeval.

The main exhibition was designed to discuss the importance of the flow of the natural in its relationship to negative space to create a dialogue on a harmonious coexistence between the built and the pristine. It was composed of five parts: Speed, Space, Hybrid, Power and Becoming.

1st Gwangju Biennale
Beyond The Borders

September 20, 1995 to November 20, 1995

The first Gwangju Biennale featured 660 artists from 58 countries, exhibiting over 817 artworks. The theme Beyond the Borders conveyed a message of global citizenship that transcended divisions between ideologies, territories, religion, race, culture, humanity, and the arts. Aesthetically, it manifested itself in art’s ability to overcome meaningless pluralism and intended to establish new orders and relationships between the arts and mankind.

The exhibition was composed of six regionally focused sections: West Europe and East Europe / North America / South America / Asia / The Middle East and Africa / Korea and Oceania