Sunday Morning Coffee [Reading List]

Image via Art in America

“Norko Realism” by Travis Jeppesen for Art in America gives an overview of the contemporary art world in North Korea.  Jeppesen explains the style, “This is a socialist, yet also ultranationalist, “realism” that belongs strictly to the Korean people north of the 38th parallel, and cannot be understood apart from their ideology-infused quotidian life, which has existed for a relatively brief span of time (since the DPRK’s founding in 1948).” He also explains the expectations and boundaries that established for the art community in the DRPK (Art in America).

“Is Yellow Fever an Expression of Pedophilic Tendencies?” The main question of the article asks if “Yellow Fever, is it a multicultural symbol or a pedophilic fetish?” Overall, I think there needs to be more research to support the arguments in the article but  this part stood out to me: “The sexualisation of Asian women and the equivalent desexualisation of Asian men is [also] reflected in the American popular culture […]” (Love Love China).

“Defining Racism in Korea” was sparked by controversy regarding racism and the Ebola outbreak; it gives a brief introduction of the roots of racism in Korea. Racism is a complicated topic in most countries and cultures, “Korean racism, however, must be understood differently from its Western cousin, experts say. It is a complex product of the country’s colonial history, postwar American influence and military presence, rapid economic development as well as patriotism that takes a special pride in its “ethnic homogeneity,” according to professor Kim Hyun-mee from Yonsei University” (Korean Herald).

“Wife’s Memory” is a Korean comic (with English translations). (I found it via The Grand Narrative.) The comic is heartbreaking and heartwarming.

On Friday I shared a collection of links as a quick way to get to know what is going on at the Gwangju Biennale this year.

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Not exactly something to read but very important, North Korean exiles will be speaking at a conference next week. “This is the first time that prominent North Korean exiles will speak publicly in a conference about the functioning of this totalitarian state. Some of them have only recently fled North Korea. All of the speakers held important positions in the regime as high-ranking officials, politicians or party cadres.”

(몸살) “Body Ache” Art Exhibition in Seoul, South Korea

Image above Lee Seung-hoon’s Plastic Surgery #01 via Korean Herald

Momsal (몸살), literally meaning body ache, examines the body as a site that represents the distress and aches of society. According to the Korean Herald, the exhibition at Sungkok Art Museum (성곡미술관) features six artists four of which are South Korean: Shin Je-heon (신제헌), Lee Sun-haing (이선행), Lee Seung-hoon (이승훈), and Black Jaguar (흑표범), and two from abroad: Sigalit Landau (Israel) and Cui Xianji (China). Above and below are some images of the artwork from the exhibition.

Black Jaguar, Giant–Monster, 2013, 150 x 100 cm, Digital Print

The first image in this post,  Lee Seung-hoon’s Plastic Surgery #01, initially drew me to this exhibition. The marks on the people’s faces in the photographs recall battle paint. Cosmetic surgery is in a way a form of battle paint; it distorts the original likeness so that one can achieve greater success, or so they hope. The melancholic expression combined with the quickly painted child-like marks create a layered view into not just the act but also the person. While looking at Lee’s images I came across an opinion piece written for the New York Times by Han Kang about cosmetic surgery in South Korea. Kang describes looking at the before and after images, “Whenever I look at these pictures, it’s the ‘before’ face that I’m drawn to: the face that has been discarded; the one that has disappeared from the world forever.” Read the rest of Kang’s essay here. If you’re interested in more details, here’s some information from the Economist.

Lee Sun-haing, Place to Rest, 2013

It is easy to become distracted by cosmetic surgery when approaching the concept of the body and South Korea. This exhibition appears to have moved beyond that and addressed further corporeal themes. Alongside the images above, there is a bust of Damien Hirst, a video called Mermaids [Erasing the Border of Azkelon], and more. To see further images you can visit the museum website linked above and there is also an essay in Korean about it here.

I initially found this exhibition through The Korean Herald in “Depictions of ‘body aches’ in modern society” by Lee Woo-young.