Graphic design in
contemporary Korea:
an oral history project
by Zara Arshad
An incomplete,

Image captions:
1. Decorative elements at the first open day of the Feminist Designer Social Club (FDSC). Credit: RAYA.
2. Photo of Shin In-ah.
3. FDSC sports day. Credit: Heeju Kang.

Interview details
Narrator: SHIN In-ah
Interviewer: Zara Arshad
Date: Friday 21 June 2019
Location: The designer’s studio in Seoul, South Korea
Length: approx. 1 hour, 21 minutes

Well, one of the most, I guess, famous projects of mine is the poster that I did in 2017. And it’s a poster that says ‘Long live feminism’, and it was initially uhm a quick project that I got commissioned from index bookshop [...] they asked several designers to create typographic poster and I had the freedom to choose whatever the phrase that I choose. Uhm, so back then I remember talking to my friend about how there is so many feminism like products out there that everyone is making and they were all in English, and we were wondering if that’s even effective cause you wear t-shirt, you wear keyrings outside to say that you’re feminist, but it’s in English, nobody’s going to read it. So we were wondering if that’s even effective act of feminism in Korea. So I remember that conversation so I chose that phrase ‘Long live feminism’ in Korean [...] and there’s actually a small sign-making shop uhm near my studio and he’s, this guy sells like small signs, like toilet signs, ready made toilet signs, but also hand writes menus for the restaurants, and he also prints some like banners and stuff like that. He does everything involved in sign-making uhm so I asked him to write up that phrase for me and I chose him because I thought back then that he is the least likely person to say that phrase [...] and I paid him about 20 dollars for that and came back here and scanned them all, and made the poster! And I released it [...] but that poster lived on longer because uh the next international woman’s day was important day because uh that’s when the Korean ‘Me Too’ scandal, like another big one emerged [...] two days before the international woman’s day, so I wanted a lot of people to be out on the streets on that international woman’s day. So, on my social network I posted up that poster’s image and say: ‘I’m gonna distribute this poster for free if you come out on the street on [...] woman’s day’ to encourage people to come out. I distributed about 300 copies of it [...] later on when there was rallies or protest, some people brought that poster as their uhm banner, so that was something special for me.


In 2017, til then there was a group called Woo working to promote I guess female designers and their rights uhm and they had big exhibition called ‘The W Show’ and officially ended their practice and there was this gap [...] for me it was a bit sad that they ended that practice and mmm, let me rewind [...] I started to do some research and learned why there are so few female designers surviving [...] I learned that they are all married to famous designers or they’re the daughter of someone really famous. At that time I also read the essay by uh Linda Nochlin about why there is few great woman artists [...] the key was to be in that network of famous designers and share information uhm so that’s why on Twitter, I casually tweeted that: ‘Ah, it will be good if there is a small group of female graphic designers sharing their tips or know-hows so that we survive a bit longer’. And that got retweeted a lot, and Woo Yunige, who’s also the co-founding member, contacted me about that and so she was the first one who contacted me about it. And Kim Somi also contacted me and Yang Meanyoung was, didn’t contact me [laughs] but I was talking to her a lot back then and then we like talked about this issue and I asked her to join in. So there were four of us who started Feminist Designer Social Club (FDSC).


We have one regular meet-up, that’s uhm actually a training session with the uhm trainer, health trainer. So we do the stretchings and like, because on the first open day, one of the attendee stood up and said: ‘Well, I was sitting at the back and I saw all of you from back here and you all had very bad neck. If you want to work longer, we have to exercise’. So she organises this exercise group that happens every week [...] that’s one major, like small but regular thing. And other meet-ups are irregular and uhm it’s organised by whoever’s willing to do so. My first meet-up that I organised was ‘cost estimate’ meet-up, so we meet up and share our own cost estimates [what rates to charge clients].


I’ve been organising like small writing group that last for about month or two, so I’ll get like five or six people to write with me cause I never write by myself [laughs] so I’ll be writing about Korean culture [...] at the end of the group, I publish the small zine of our writing uhm and after doing several issues of it, I became interested in like recording the events that I think is important, but that’s not necessarily considered to be important to mainstream media, and so I gathered like seven or eight people, who can write with me again uhm and each of them had their own topic, such as like feminism, film, LGBT or cityscape uhm and also NGOs and like activism in Korea.


Well, now I get a lot of work from feminist uhm NGOs and stuff like that uhm so I guess I’ve established myself as a feminist designer in Korea uhm but what makes me excited, like the clients that I am happy to work with are the ones that doesn’t seem like feminist [...] for example, Basic Income Youth Network [...] they commission me to rebrand their group and I design posters and stuff for them and they, I’ve been member of that network for four years now, so I understood what they stand for and their tone of voice.

Notes: The following timeline was originally compiled by Shin In-ah and sent to the researcher, Zara Arshad, via e-mail on Wednesday 30 January 2019. This timeline details events leading up to the ‘feminism reboot’, a reference used by scholars to describe the ‘recent rise of young feminists’ in South Korea. Shin In-ah believes that ‘FDSC was only possible as a part of this big wave’. Text in this timeline has been lightly edited from the original.

1) 02/2015 - A (male) columnist, Kim Tae-hoon, wrote an article titled ‘Brainless Feminism is more dangerous than IS’ for Grazia Korea. This sparked the first main hashtag movement that I remember, #i_am_a_feminist (#나는_페미니스트입니다). This is probably the moment where scholars first started using the description ‘feminist reboot’.

2) 05/2015 - MERS arrived in South Korea. In an online forum called DC Inside, a rumour was posted that two naive girls spread MERS by refusing to cooperate with government officials (which was, of course, nonsense). This initiated the first online community of young feminists called Megalia, who looked to reclaim misogynistic language using mocking tactics. More on this here.

3) 05/2016 - A woman was murdered at Gangnam station (external link). This was the key moment where most of us realised that we live in a different world, and in this world we could get killed by a random man for just being a woman.

* Woo Yunige joined FDSC as a founding member around this time. She also runs a feminist publishing company called ‘Baume à l’âme’, which released the book We Need Language in August 2016.
** 6699press is a small publishers run by graphic designer Lee Jaeyoung. They released a book called Korea, Woman, Graphic Designer 11 in November 2016. For this, I conducted an interview with Lee Jaeyoung, who suggested that the murder at Gangnam station was the starting point of this book. The publication itself featured 11 female graphic designers, who spoke of their experiences as a woman in the field. This prompted the creation of the group Woo. One of the founding members of FDSC, Kim Somi, was one of the interviewees in this book, and she also worked with Woo.

4) 06/2016 - A junior designer, who was working at Design Soho, claimed that she was fired after reporting instances of sexual harassment committed by senior designers. Unfortunately, her story didn’t receive much media attention, but the case is outlined (in Korean) on the following website. In the end, this designer was sued for defamation and she was fined (around £2050.00). Soon after, she posted a suicide note online and attempted suicide, but failed. The company sued her again for posting the suicide note. Long story short, Design Soho eventually apologised and dropped the charges (in 2017).

5) 10/2016 - The hashtag movement #sexual_harrassment_in_oo (#ㅇㅇ계_내_성폭력) exploded on Twitter. It started with reports from subcultures (like anime and manga fandom), but then spread to other fields, such as literature, visual arts, film, photography, sports, music - mostly in art and culture - and eventually to schools, churches etc. This hashtag movement was quite heavy, as many big names were called out as predators. One of them was a curator called Hahm Youngjune, who was closely linked with the local graphic design scene. He was famous for working with key graphic designers as well.

These events coincided with the former President’s impeachment demonstration, and so the hashtag movement didn’t get much media attention as a result. So when the prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon interviewed on TV in January 2018 and shared her personal story about sexual harassment, and when the local media coined the description ‘Korean #Metoo’, I was actually quite upset: this seemed to erase everything that happened prior. I was also upset to see Western media report that ‘#Metoo has arrived in Korea’ because it was already happening. It’s frustrating because we were already fighting against people who were not listening! It was a very chaotic time.

(b. 1985, Suncheon) Shin In-ah is a graphic designer, a writer, and co-founder of the Feminist Designer Social Club. Key articles written to date include contributions to GRAPHIC, Woowho, and LetterSeed (title: To Find Great Women Graphic Designers). Shin In-ah obtained a double degree (Bachelor of Design in visual communication and Bachelor of Arts in international studies) at University of Technology Sydney, during which time she also spent one year with Politecnico di Milano.

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