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'All I can do is walk'

This Saturday, Rochester photographer Kyong Juhn will begin a 330-mile walk to honor her mother. It will approximate the distance her mother traveled 70 years ago when she fled communist North Korea

Rochester artist Kyong Juhn will begin a 330-mile Walk for Hope and Peace across Minnesota May 5. The venture is funded by Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council. Juhn walked 500 miles in Spain in 2016.
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This Saturday, Rochester photographer Kyong Juhn will begin a 330-mile walk to honor her mother.

Juhn plans to walk from Rochester to Bemidji over the next three weeks, traveling 10 to 20 miles each day. It will approximate the distance her mother traveled 70 years ago when she fled communist North Korea in the midst of the Korean War.

The walk will also be a plea for peace. Juhn’s pilgrimage will take place at a historic moment, as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un make plans for a meeting at the DMZ border that could take place later this month.

When Juhn first conceived of her journey, "Walk for Hope & Peace," last spring, the U.S. and North Korea appeared to be careening toward military conflict.

After North Korea tested a long-range missile last year, analysts warned that the North could reach targets in the U.S. The odds of military conflict between the nuclear-armed countries seemed higher than at any time since the end of active hostilities in 1953.


"I was devastated by the news, and I couldn’t do anything about this," Juhn said "But I wanted to do something. All I can do is walk."

Juhn is linked to both countries. The U.S is where she lives and raised her family. But her parents came from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Juhn, 54, wanted to do something to promote peace, not as a politician or activist, but as an artist.

Juhn’s walk will take place against a dramatically different background than when she first came up with the idea.

Last week, a global television audience watched the leaders of North Korea and South Korea embrace at the line that separates the divided Koreas. Both leaders signed a document committing the two countries to a nuclear-free peninsula and talks to formally end the Korean War.

Juhn said she is "hopeful" but cautious about the prospects for peace. She knows that such gestures between the two counties have happened in the past and come to nothing.

"I’m very hopeful, to be honest, because the North Korean situation is very very devastating, worse than (Kim Jung Un’s) father’s time," Juhn said. "But we cannot raise our glass of champagne (yet)."

Juhn’s interest in art bloomed later in life. Four years ago, after raising her children, Juhn decided to take a couple of art classes at Rochester Community and Technical College.

She found herself among classmates who were her children’s age. Although she didn’t know how to focus the lens on a camera at the time, the classes "turned my life into a totally different direction."


"I took a photography class, and I fell in love with it," she said.

Later Juhn received a scholarship to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated in 2017.

It was in her RCTC art history class that Juhn read about how Christians in the Middle Ages would take pilgrimages. The concept fascinated her. In 2016, she received a grant and went on her first walk, a 500-mile jaunt on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

"I love the idea of walking. Walking (means) moving forward in life," Juhn said. "When we have challenges, walking moves us forward."

Her walk through the heart of Minnesota is funded by the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council. Part of the money will be used to support four exhibitions featuring the photographs she takes on her pilgrimage. An RCTC exhibition is set to take place Aug. 3 through 17.

Related Topics: TOURISM
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