(CNN) – Art has always had the power to be dangerous. But a recently opened art museum takes that to another level.

It’s Unimaru’s location that makes him dangerous. The museum is based on the DMZ, or Korean Demilitarized Zone, a no man’s land along the 38th parallel between North Korea and South Korea.

Its inaugural exhibition, titled “2021 DMZ Art and Peace Platform”, featured 34 works by 32 artists and opened in September 2021.

“Elephant Cart” is a work by Nam June Paik, the late Korean-American artist considered the founder of the video art movement.

Ministry of Unification

Before becoming a museum, Unimaru was a customs clearance center, where visitors went through a security check before being allowed to visit the DMZ from 2003 to 2007. This was later replaced by a larger office.

The building remained empty until early 2021, when the architectural firm MPART – which also designed the National Museum of Contemporary Modern Art (MMCA) in Seoul – reinvented it as Unimaru. The name of the museum is a coat rack of two Korean words: “united”, which means one, and “maru”, which means space.

Its roof was opened for visitors to see more of the view and a steel facade “that represents the liminality of time and space at the DMZ,” according to a museum statement.

Due to security concerns and the coronavirus, the number of visitors is intentionally limited.

A maximum of five tour groups per day, with a maximum of 30 people per group, was allowed when the museum was open. Now Unimaru is on hiatus as he puts on his next exhibit.

Those wishing to visit should seek permission from the South Korean Unification Ministry (MOU) – the official government body that promotes Korean reunification and dialogue between the two countries.

Once approved, they get a free ticket to Unimaru and can board one of the special buses authorized to transport civilian guests to the DMZ.

On the left you can see the mural by Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrč "What is the DMZ floor made of?"

On the left you can see the mural by Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrč “What is DMZ floor made of?”

Ministry of Unification

After verifying their identification, guests are escorted into the museum by docents and MOU staff. These MOU members are civilians and do not carry weapons.

All visitors to the DMZ must adhere to a dress code that prohibits miniskirts, shorts, and anything that has a camouflage print.

They are not allowed to greet anyone they might see or take pictures of anything without permission, just in case they run into any security concerns.

Children under 8 are also excluded from the DMZ, regardless of their country of origin.

In 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean President Kim Jong Un held an inter-Korean summit meeting at the “Peace House” in Panmunjom on the DMZ.

Technically, the two nations are still at war, but during the meeting, Moon and Kim agreed to formally end their conflict. The agreement also stipulated that the two countries would withdraw weapons, guards and landmines from the Joint Security Area (JSA).

It was the departure of guards from some of the military watch posts that allowed Unimaru to exhibit works of art on a converted old guard tower just a mile from the border.

UniMaru’s artistic director Yeon Shim Chung told Artnet that she or other museum staff wore bulletproof vests as a precaution when going to set up exhibits there.
The exterior of Unimaru.

The exterior of Unimaru.

Ministry of Unification

Works by South Korean and international artists are exhibited at Unimaru.

However, one of the most striking installations is an empty frame that represents where the museum hopes to one day showcase works by North Korean artists.

The JSA, or Panmunjom, is probably the best-known spot along the DMZ due to its recognizable bright blue conference hall, which is the area’s most visited attraction.

Former US President Bill Clinton called the DMZ “the scariest place in the world” after a state visit there in 1993.

Panmunjom tours resumed on November 30, after being suspended in July as South Korea tightened its Covid-19 restrictions.


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