▲ The exhibition opened on December 22 and runs through June 16 at Jeju Museum of Art.
Haenyeo have held the fascination of artist Chang Ree-Suok for decades.
Chang, born in Pyongyang in 1916, came to Jeju as a refugee during Korea's civil war in the 1950s. After four years he went to Seoul to live and work, maintaining his connection to Jeju.
No feature of this island captured his imagination more than the diving women. Painting them repeatedly and well into his later years, he depicted the women not as young beauties in scanty clothing as did many of his era, but as robust older maternal figures with apparent confidence, competence, and independence.
This omnipotent mother archetype is considered by critics to depict Chang's longing for his lost homeland and family.
Chang won presidential recognition for his work as early as 1958, received numerous awards, and had many students, all serving to make him one of Korea's most beloved artists. At nearly 100 years of age, he survives today.
“Chadoree's Mother,” an exhibition of his haenyeo-themed work, is currently on display at Jeju Museum of Art in Jeju City. “Chadoree,” with its nuanced meaning of “strong child,” is the title given to one of Chang's more significant works (1985) and clearly indicates his overarching theme of 'strong mother equals strong child.'
The works in this exhibit, donated to the museum in 2007, are somewhat rough in the style of primitivism, a naïve or folk art purposely rejecting the more structured European styles. At times his work is reminiscent of Gaugin's Tahitian women, while others bring to mind the works of Wyeth in his depictions of American prairie women.
In addition to being muscular and middle-aged, his figures are often depicted with a dark complexion and even faceless at times, indicating 'Everywoman' or the universality of his theme. Media include oils, pastels, and woodcut.
Chang's depictions of Jeju haenyeo, while more realistic than that of many other artists, are somewhat romanticized. Filled with maternal warmth, he nevertheless captures only positive aspects of community and character, without depicting the realities of their hard work and difficult life.
It is possible Chang painted largely from memory, causing one scholar who viewed the exhibit to suggest that the artist may have never actually seen haenyeo at work. The repeated depiction of a small trident, a tool unknown to scholars of haenyeo study, is put forward as evidence for this.
He is especially successful, however, in portraying the interconnectedness of haenyeo and their environment.
The exhibition opened on December 22 and runs through June 16. Jeju Museum of Art is located on the 1100 Road which runs between Jeju and Seogwipo cities, near Halla Arboretum and adjacent to Loveland. For more information: http://jmoa.jeju.go.kr/ [Korean language only].
Dr. Hilty is a cultural psychologist from New York who now makes Jeju Island her home.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.net)
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