This marvellous exhibition co-presented by the Traditional Korean Minhwa Center in South Korea and the Korean Cultural Centre Australia , features 25 pieces of modern minhwa, referring to the folk painting style of Korea which thrived during the Joseon period (1392-1910), exploring the unique aesthetics and sentiments of the Korean art genre reinterpreted by contemporary minhwa artists of today.

Very popular among the general population of that period, minhwa works are known for their unique use of space in the compositions and vivid colours, representing the wishes , hope and dreams of the people as each object drawn represents its own meaning.

The exhibition also presents different types of chaekgado (also called chaekkori) paintings, which is a genre of still-life that depicts books and other decorative objects .

The works displayed include depictions of exquisite, delicate butterflies, flowers, ferocious tigers , mythical swirling dragons and various portraits . In Korean art, flowers and butterflies can be viewed as symbols of love.

Park Soon Ee’s Cheonsang YeolchabunyajidoIt is a stunning fourteenth-century Korean star map, copies of which were used across Korea during the Joseon Dynasty, full of swirls and delicate dots. The name is sometimes translated as “a chart of the constellations and the regions they govern.”

Superimposed on the map are the five deities depicted in the mural paintings of ancient Goguryeo (37 BC-668AD) tombs, the Azure Dragon of the East(좌청룡), White Tiger of the West(우백호), Vermilion Bird of the South(남주작), and the Black Tortoise of the North(북현무) are depicted in a writhing, mythical lifelike style in the hope of bringing Korea peace and prosperity.

Lee Sook Mi ‘s Portrait of a Beauty’ shows a fragile, delicate yet strong woman with a huge plaited hairdo and billowing flowing robes. Compositionally there is the feeling of an ‘s’ shape and movement.

Portrait Painting of King Taejo Eojin (Chosanghwa) by Kwon Jungsoon is a striking portrait of King Taejo Lee Seong-gye, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, painted with natural pigment and gold on silk. Most of the portraits in Korea depict government officials, the aristocrats or historical figures, their social status indicated by their clothing. His Majesty positively oozes authority. There is great sense of strength and solidity, of the heavy use of form and volume.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the five part folding screen ‘The Luxurious Life of Guo Ziyi’ also by Kwon Jungsoon with its stylized depiction of landscape and people going about their daily lives . This tells the tale of Guo Ziyi’s extremely fortunate life : he was famed for his wealth and virtue, had a long life and left numerous descendants. The detail is incredible with the procession in the middle of the painting, temples, peacocks and more.

Paintings of dragons and other mythical creatures are believed to help protect from evil spirits (see, for example, Song Kowoon’s Unnyongdo ) .

Fans were one of the most important household items in Northeast Asia from early on, believed to not only provide air but protect from evil spirits, and in the Western world they were to be treated as valuable items along with silk and pearls (see for example Woo Suk Ja ‘s The Fan ).

Another section of the exhibition includes Chaekkori a genre popular with scholars depicting crowded bookshelves and assorted items representing an anxious search for acumen. Often included are vases , goblets, clothing, sculptures , fruit ,musical instruments , flowers ,fans, eye glasses and especially a scholar’s Four Precious Things (paper, brushes, inkstone, and inkstick).

The Chaekkori were frequently hung in schools as an inspiration . Unlike other Minhwa, Chaekkori were generally created by professional painters, as clients would commission their own special set. They can almost appear to be a still life, and unusually were drawn using three-dimensional effects and perspective – Western style techniques

KIM Eun Joo’s Chaekgado is traditional, showing very neatly stacked boxes, a tidily made bed with a robe,  a candle stand , inkbrush, socks…

This is contrasted with You Mira’s work which as a far more contemporary Western feel with its strong lines and use of volume and form.

A most exciting exhibition

The MINHWA Today exhibition runs at the Korean Cultural Centre Australia, ground floor 255 Elizabeth Street, city until Thursday April 1, 2021.


Featured image : Yonhwado, AN Eulson (Courtesy of the artist)