Update 2020: I visited Ihwa way back in 2015. A LOT has changed since then (including these poor fish stairs below). I haven’t had a chance to revisit to update this very out of date post. I highly recommend taking this tour my friend, Hallie, which covers the village with much better nuance.
It has a quieter, serene atmosphere, with a focus on local community and beauty. In a metropolis where all the skyscrapers begin to take on the same, dull shapes and cold, gray colors, Ihwa is colorful and intimate.
History of Ihwa Mural Village
Much like Busan’s Gamcheon Culture Village, the village has more impoverished origins. Generally, those workers who could not afford houses in the flatter, more central parts of Seoul lived in places like Ihwa. This was most textile factory workers. Even as Seoul industrialized, the village stayed more or less the same. This lead to plans for demolition after the nineties.
Interestingly enough, instead of demolition in 2006, Seoul decided to commission a bunch of artists to create different installations with the theme of “Mix, Connect, and Get Together.” They created about sixty-four in all. However, this first round brought on too much clutter and trash from tourists and subsequently complaints from the residents The city wound up destroying many of the murals, presumably finding the art project a failure.
However, in 2013 they assembled more artists, including university students, to create more installations. This resulted in over a hundred works. There is now an emphasis on respecting both the privacy of residents as well as maintaining the quiet atmosphere.
Residents have opened restaurants, galleries, and cafes, with all proceeds benefiting the village itself. Even while Ihwa has grown, it has seemed to avoid the bali-bali growth of its neighbors and maintained its own, steady speed. As one of the artists involved, Lim Young-Suk, said, “We need to be analog, not digital.”
The place is still very much off the beaten path for Seoul and Korea visitors. Although I can see it growing more popular in the future. Often times my Korean friends have not heard of it let alone any of my friends visiting from abroad. But just as I found Gamcheon to be utterly charming, I find Ihwa Mural Village to be wonderfully sweet escape from the bustling city. Also, you know, it is used in quite a few drama filmings so, if you’re a K-drama fan, you might recognize some of the art!
How to Get to Ihwa Mural Village
- Get off at Hyehwa Station on Line 4, Exit 2.
- Walk towards Marronier Park and then take a left after you pass it.
- Walk straight towards Naksan Park until you come across the murals.
When in doubt, there will definitely be some Korean couples out on a date here, so follow them!
Have you heard of Ihwa Mural Village? What are some of your favorite off the beaten path places?