London Korean Links

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Ancient and modern ceramics at the KCC

Shouvik Datta reports from the talk on Korean ceramics at the KCC on 15 July, which was part of a series of events accompanying the current Moon Vase exhibition.
It was a warm July day, and Ms Heena Youn, who is currently completing her PhD at SOAS (on a specialist area of ancient Chinese ceramics), was giving a talk introducing us to the history of Korean ceramics, using pieces in the collection of the National Museum of Korea as our guides.

The cool interior of the Korean Cultural Centre was a good environment on a July Monday (15th) for the talk. Ms Youn presented the audience with a series of photographic slides, and explained the cultural and historical context to each of the ceramic designs shown.

Heena Youn
Heena Youn lecturing at the KCC on 15 July (image courtesy KCCUK)

The jars and designs were of different colours. Some of them were white porcelain, first produced in Korea at the beginning of the the Joseon (or Yi) dynasty, which governed Korea from 1392 up to the formal annexation by Japan in 1910. Other jars had designs on them of bamboos, chrysanthemums, birds and other different patterns. The designs themselves came in different colours: iron-brown, cobalt-blue or copper-red. “There was a taste for multicultural working near the Kwangju area, (Southern Korea)” Ms Youn explained. Earlier works from the Goryeo dynasty had the famous blue-green celadon glaze with decoration in white inlaid slip.

An impressive aspect of her talk lay in the fact that she explained as much about the industrial and manufacturing side of Korean ceramics, in addition to its artistic and aesthetic aspects. For example I learned that cobalt had been imported into Korea from the Middle East via China, and henceforth was used for ceramic manufacture there. But it would have been interesting to hear whether Korean ceramics had any influence on Josiah Wedgewood, one of the great figures of the early Industrial Revolution, who revolutionized porcelain manufacture at his factory in Britain’s Stoke-on-Trent in the 18th century.

There were a number of questions from the audience afterwards. Ms Youn was asked how the more well-known Chinese & Japanese manufacture had influenced Korea. She replied that this was a complicated question, although she said that Chinese porcelain had influenced Korea, and Korean porcelain had influenced Japan. In response to a question on preserving potteries, she said this was a relatively simple process: the National Museum of Korea and private individuals were involved in the excavation and preservation of ancient Korean pottery.

The lecture forms part of a series of talks over the summer at the London Korean Cultural Centre. There is also a summer exhibition of ceramics at the centre, entitled “Moon Jar: Contemporary Translations in Britain”, June 18 – August 17. The exhibition features the work of Adam Buick, Jack Doherty, Akiko Hirai, Gareth Mason & Yee Sookyung. In the exhibition’s introductory booklet Adam Buick states that his work is influenced by Confucian values such as purity, honesty and modesty, as well as by the landscape of Wales’s Pembrokeshire county.

Moon ceramics
Left – the Moon Jar (on loan from the British Museum) and (right) a contemporary take on it by Yee Sookyung (on loan from the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art)

The most important part of the centre’s exhibition is of course the Moon Jar. Brought to England by the British studio potter Bernard Leach after his second visit to Korea in 1935, it was later purchased by the British Museum. The UK was the first European country to form diplomatic relations with Korea, in 1883. The exhibition’s booklet had a forward by Ed Vaizey, the British Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and by Suk-hwan Park, the Republic of Korea’s Ambassador to the UK (who has just returned to Seoul at the end of his posting), and has excellent information on the exhibits & Korean ceramics generally.


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