Slosberg exhibition highlights Korean culture
Like a number of countries that are adjusting themselves to globalization, South Korea is right at the moment where traditional cultural heritage meets western ideology. Koreans, who are either overseas or staying domestic, set out to express their sensations and perspectives influenced by the world around them with both individual insights and cultural experiences.
At Brandeis, the exhibition “Landscape of the Soul,” located in the lobby of Slosberg Music Center, displays a series of contemporary Korean artwork ranging from personal feelings to explorations of South Korea’s future with its neighbor, North Korea. Although the space is limited, the collection is still impressive, placing classic and contemporary pieces together.
Paintings, sculptures and ceramics cover the space of the room. After seeing a typically traditional Korean painting, visitors will discover abstract sculptures, such as Jaeok Lee’s “Guardians of Peace,” (2015) which includes more Western art elements.
Vibrant colors, such as red, gold and orange coexist with dark ones like brown and blue. The exhibition starts from the left side, where there are five colored ceramic plates. Traditional Korean painting objects are created in a new way — a lotus is flying in the wind, and a carp is smiling with wide open eyes like a child.
The creator of these pieces, Namhi Kim Wanger says in the exhibition’s pamphlet that the creation process “enabled me to pay homage to my heritage and distill the aesthetic values I have absorbed along the path my life has taken.” When Wanger was a child, he “grew up seeing antique pieces including Korean ceramics” around family houses, even when his family lived in Japan for years before moving back to South Korea. According to the exhibit pamphlet, Wanger wanted to “creat[e] something that was my own out of traditional forms and white slip decorating techniques” and created pottery with bright colors and traditional Korean symbols.
A landscape painting drawn by a Korean artist Yong Suk Lee demonstrated traditional painting of Korea. The traditional painting style uses a white background with black objects in order to form contrast, which is a typical method in both Korean and Chinese conventional painting. If one stands close enough to the painting, one can spot the delicacy of brush work — dark color accumulates to indicate outlines of mountains and plants which grow at the edge of them.
Although he lived in Boston for ten years, Lee’s passion and interest in Korean’s traditional painting has never faded. Even today, he still observes and sketches pine trees “while hiking the mountain near Boston area.” A sculpture, “Big Mama" (2013), by Ji In Lee, is made of wheel-thrown and handbuilt stoneware clay and fired with celadon glaze. The figure’s body somewhat resembles a classic statuette, “Woman of Willendorf,” carved during the Paleolithic Period with a plump body and pendulous breasts with straight-up nipples. Unlike “Woman of Willendorf,” which is expected to be associated with reproduction, “Big Mama” aims to raise people’s consciousness of their bodies through a statue. Another sculpture, "Sam Cho Li Kang San II, map vessel of Korea," (1997) by Nancy Selvage, brings visitors to the national level. The sculpture includes landscapes of the Korean peninsula, portraying North Korea with a bright color and South Korea with dark lines. In the piece, Selvage attempts to remind people of the polluted water that flows from North Korea to South Korea and the political, cultural and historical issues that go along with it. There is also a crane — a creature symbolizing peace — in the North Korean sculpture, which functions as a symbol of dialogue between the two sides and ideologies.
The exhibition is an ideal place for people who long to explore the concepts of what it means to be Korean. The paintings throw questions and release emotions in the context of a nation that stands in the circle of Asian culture and steps into Western value. The artwork gives outsiders an ordinary glimpse into South Koreans’ responses to these shifting times. “Landscape of the Soul” will be on view until March 26.
*Correction: The exhibit will last until March 26, not Oct. 8.