The rare red-crowned crane winters in the highly protected Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea. While conducting research at the Smithsonian, Korean American artist Michael Joo (born 1966, Ithaca, NY) came across specimens of the crane in the National Museum of Natural History. Joo was struck by the form of the specimens, preserved for more than a century, and the enduring fascination with these iconic birds, which have found sanctuary in the heavily surveilled DMZ.
As Joo wrote in his artist’s statement:
Boundaries and borders speak to how we define ourselves and the space and context we would like to create for our societies. The diverse and rare ecologies of the Korean Demilitarized Zone are an example of this. Running around 160 miles across and 2.5 miles deep, the strip of unoccupied land that divides North and South Korea contains flora and fauna unique or believed extinct in the rest of the region. Military patrols on either side of the border have served as unintended stewards of this relatively pristine ecosystem. . . . Species of cranes, historically iconic in Korean culture, have migrated through this border, regardless of its constructed restrictions.