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Sentiments in South Korean Art Speak to the World

Painting by Kim-Insoon displays what it felt like to be a "educated" women trapped in the Korean patriarchy.
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Art is a language, an instrument of knowledge, an instrument of communication.

Jean Dubuffet (1983)

As is apparent through the global rise of Korean Pop, BBQ and dramas, South Korea is a mass producer of addictive consumable media.

As more and more people book their flights to the bustling city of Seoul, South Korea, they will encounter a rich culture behind the scenes. For those looking to explore visual art, a trip to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea (Gwacheon) is in order. Regardless of your knowledge of Korean history, the art pieces featured surpass language and culture barriers.

KOREAN ART THROUGH A GLOBAL LENS

Oil on canvas painting features a naked man, and a woman washing his feet. The woman is wearing only a graduation cap. A shadow in the back shows the shadow of a violent man.

Painting by Kim-Insoon displays what it felt like to be a “educated” women trapped in the Korean patriarchy.

Good Wife and Wise Mother, Kim In-Soon (1986), Acrylic on Canvas (Photo Credit: Isa Castaneda)

The art piece featured above is a direct response to the Korean 1980s feminist movement. However, it speaks to women around the world. A woman wearing a graduation cap washes her husband’s feet, bowing to his powerful stance. A small plaque next to the piece reads: “The harsh reality that even women of ‘elite’ status are unable to escape.” A reality that is true for many, even today.

The harsh reality that even women of ‘elite’ status are unable to escape.

MMCA Collection Korea

These two art pieces serve as a comprehensive snapshot of Korean history. The oil painting on the left allows a global audience to see how quickly South Korea has moved from impoverished and war-stricken to a technological wonder of the world. It features many iconic political images. This piece requires no further analysis, yet it stays in one’s head.

The linoleum piece on the right was made in the 1980s, but strikes true even today. It features North and South Korea embracing one another, wishing for reunification. Even to modern global audiences, the tensions between South and North Korea are no secret. Art often makes decades of pain and changes simple to understand.

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.

Aristotle

Whether you are planning a weekend trip to your local art gallery or visiting the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea, consider this: Art is not just what the artist intended it to be.

In this era of globalization, we may look at art as a mirror. The art pieces featured were made in a Korean context, yet they speak to us all. Whether you are an an expat based abroad or simply a history enthusiast, art is a great way to cross cultural bridges.

Explore the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea, virtually or in person.

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