Kang Bong Kyu: Korea, Koreanity at the KCC

It’s only a brief, 2-week, exhibition, but it’s well worth a visit. In fact it’s worth more than one visit:

Kang Bong-kyu: Family (2005)
Kang Bong-kyu: Family (2005). Yeongyang-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

From 5th October to 18th October 2011, the Federation for Gwangju Museum of Art will hold an exhibition on traditional Korean aesthetics entitled, “Kang Bong Kyu, Korean, Koreanity” at the Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK). This exhibition presents 45 works by three Gwangju based artists.

Kang Bong Kyu’s works are the result of his interests in portraying the aesthetics of Korean lifestyle and the surrounding environment of Jeollanam-do province that provide the backdrop for what he sees as a traditional Korean way of life. Kang’s pictures capture traditional Korean architecture as well as buddhist statues and traditional folk symbols such as “Jangseung” – wooden totems placed at the entrance of villages – which symbolize the Korean spirit. His pictures focus on subjects that provide an insight into how traditional Korean lifestyles came into being, through extensive review of the surrounding environments. Through the pictures of Korean villagers and their activities, he archives the cultures of past Korean life.

The Korean War urged one photographer to record traditional cultures and Korean landscapes – in fear of them being forgotten. Thus, through his photographs, Kang reconstructed the traditional lifestyle and landscape of what he thought to be ‘Korean’. His works place an emphasis on the visualization of Korean way of life, as well as providing a context for Korea of the past.

Park Yoo Jin‘s craft works are based on “Bojagi”, a traditional Korean craft that follows its own criterion on aesthetics and unique craftsmanship. Her works capture the classic Korean aesthetic with a focus on modern practicality and fuse tradition with modern society and her unique creativity has garnered her much attention at international art exhibitions such as the Gwangju Biennale. Her colours, patterns and textures are representative of the aesthetics of traditional Korean art.

Han Hee-won: The lost village (2011)
Han Hee-won: The lost village (2011) 30 x 90 cm

Han Hee Won‘s paintings are famous for expressing Korean nature and landscape through a modern perspective. Essentially, the subject of Han’s paintings are imprints of humanity that are left on nature – he captures various mundane subjects such as houses, villages, roads, trees, flowers, winds and rivers. Han’s oil paintings – despite the fact that oil paintings have begun in the West – are reminiscent of oriental drawings, especially when devoid of the various colours.

Traditional aesthetics may live on through these artists’ works, but such aesthetics cannot coexist in a modern life that is going through rapid urbanization and modernization – and that is Korea’s reality: the pragmatism and convenience of modern western cultures have thrust tradition and traditional aesthetics into the realms of nostalgia.

However, whilst traditional ways life may be inconvenient and impractical in modern society, they still remain beautiful and cherished from an aesthetic point of view. These artists’ aims and goals are to preserve and reconstruct such aesthetics, and this exhibition is an opportunity for the viewers to observe and experience the three artists’ confirmation and beliefs on traditional Korean aesthetics.

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