On Friday, April 13, the staff and students of the Colin Powell Center were invited for a private tour of the Rubin Museum of Art and a photo exhibit on North Korea at the 8th Floor, a private gallery funded by Donald and Shelly Rubin. The afternoon was a chance for Center students to add a dash of culture to the end of their Spring Break and for staff to start the weekend a bit early.
The visit to the photo exhibit, “Windows on North Korea,” was especially timely: During the night before, North Korea launched a long-range missile despite a ban under United Nation resolutions. Photos of North Koreans bowling, riding roller coasters and swimming in hotel pools belied the night’s events and the scenes North Korea usually calls to mind: soldiers marching in unison and crowds grieving over the death of Kim Jung-il.
Those images were present as well. Of the 80 photos, half were contributed by the Associated Press, half by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Rachel Weingeist, curator of the 8th Floor, rattled off some of the various and strict instructions they were given: No photo could be larger than those of late supreme leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung; a seemingly benign photo of a woman riding a bicycle was barely allowed; there was “absolutely no room” for non-sanctioned photographs.
The special invitation was extended by the Rubins, who are very interested in education; their philanthropy includes a developing and supporting relationship with CCNY. The visit to the photo gallery fit well with the Center’s recently recently added Korean heritage scholarship slots to the Colin Powell Leadership Program.
The short walk to the Rubin Museum transported the group of around 20 from 21st century geopolitical tensions to the ornate, beautiful and contemplative world of Himalayan art. The hour-long tour covered the permanent collection and an exhibition on religious texts. The docent told the story of the Buddha, plus why his ears are so big, why he has a bump on his head, and why Buddhism took more than 1,000 years to spread from India to nearby Tibet.
(Answers: to signify the heavy earrings he left behind for a life of asceticism; to fit his extensive wisdom; it’s all about the economy.)
A selection of the photos from “Windows on North Korea” can be seen on the New York Times Web site.