Myeongdong Theatre (Theater and Globalization 2)

While most of Christopher Balme’s Coursera-MOOC on Theatre and Globalization was about ephemerals and moving things (ensembles, people, ideas etc.), “immobilities” (Korean: 부동산, German: Immobilien) such as theatre buildings also played an important role as cultural hubs and “contact zones” (Mary Louise Pratt) for diverse encounters between groups and individuals.

Myeongdong Theatre (명동예술극장), present day, via Pixabay

Myeongdong Theatre (명동예술극장), present day, via Pixabay

In my second assignment, I discuss the checkered histories of the place known today as Myeongdong [Art] Theatre (명동예술극장). Located in the midst of buzzling Myeongdong, half-way from either Myeongdong station (명동역) and Eulgiro1-ga (을지로입구역), the changing uses of this this building since the 1930s tell a story of the transformations of modern Korea, from a Japanese colony to a cultural power.

For this assignment I expanded on some earlier research for a presentation at Sogang University, back then as part of the Korean language class. My team’s topic was “myeongso” (명소, lit. “place with a name”, i.e. famous localities) and Steven covered the 63 Building (육삼 빌딩), icon of the “Han-River Miracle”, while “the other” Stephen discussed the neo-traditional shopping street in Insa-dong. Myeongdong Theatre, while not of particular scenic beauty, is interesting historically and I have also seen some great performances there (as well as some more academically rigurous productions). It’s certainly worth a visit!

This is my (slightly streamlined) take on the Myeongdong Theatre, illustrated with some historical images:

In pre-modern Korea, theatre (and music) was not performed in designated public buildings but rather outside (village squares) or in semi-private settings at upper class homes or at the Royal Court. The first buildings specifically dedicated to performing arts date to the late 19th and early 20th century. In English, Andrew Killick offers an overview of the Korean theatre scene of that time in his book on changgeuk (Killick, In Search of Korean Traditional Opera, Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 2010).

The Japanese and, presumably, the Chinese community had their own theatre(s) and the Seoul Electric Company, a Korean-American joint venture that had introduced street cars and city lights, opened a commercial theatre with stage lighting. The first documented “Korean” indoor theatre is the Hyeomnyulsa (협률사 / 協律社), built in 1902. Today, few colonial buildings remain in Korea, as many were demolished or destroyed, not least due to the Korean War and postcolonial politics.

The Myeondong Theater, named after its location, is – as far as I know – the only remaining theatre building that dates back to the colonial era. Myeongdong, in the 1920s and 30s the heart of modernizing Seoul and home to the first department stores, bank, and cinemas (see a blogpost by Robert Koehler at The Marmot’s Hole), nowadays is known as a shopping district and tourist zone. The checkered history of the Myeongdong Theater is quite remarkable, probably not untypical for a postcolonial setting, and might be read as emblematic for the recent history of Korea.

For the following brief chronology I draw on two texts, a Korean-language essay on “The Historicity and New Identity of the Myeongdong Theater” by Kim Seong-hui published in The Korean Theatre Journal (연극평론) in 2011 and a shorter and slightly imprecise English article from 2009 by Kim Moon-hwan (“Renovated Myeong-dong Art Theater Opens its Doors”) from Koreana, an English quarterly on Korean culture and art published by the government-run Korea Foundation (한국국제교류재단).

  • built in 1934 by a Japanese architect, “with tendencies of modernist and neo-classicist experiments that were in rage at that time, flavored with Renaissance-style and Baroquish decoration” (Kim Seong-hui, p. 45)
  • inaugurated as a cinema in 1936 (“Meiji Theatre”, 명치좌 / 明治座)
  • used as a cinema and theatre (“International Theatre”, 국제극장) for two years under the American military government after Liberation in 1945
  • became the residence of the municipal government of Seoul (시공관) in 1947, still with occasional performances
  • housed the National Theater of Korea (국립극장) since 1957 (while still serving as a governmental facility)
  • re-opened as the “Myeongdong National Theater” after renovations in 1962
  • hosted not only the national performings arts companies but also private ensembles well into the 70s
  • sold to a financial company in 1976 (and subsequently turned into office space) after the inauguration of the current National Theater on Mt. Namsan
  • evoked a “Restoration Movement” when demolition became imminent in the late 90s to early 2000s
  • re-acquired by the Ministry of Culture, renovated, and finally re-opened as “Myeongdong Theater” (명동예술극장) in 2009.

The following gallery shows some older pictures of the building (from the Japanese Wikipedia)

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In its heydays, the building hosted various notable events, including the first official symphony concert (1946), both the first Western opera performed in Korea (La Traviata, 1948) and the first opera authored by a Korean composer (The Tale of Chunhyang, 1950), the first Korean performance of Hamlet (1949), and the first Miss Korea Ceremony (1957, see a video on Vimeo).

Myeongdong Theater (명동예술극장), 2012

Myeongdong Theater (명동예술극장), 2012

Today, the Myeongdong Theater, with a historically renovated exterior and state-of-the-art stage technology, presents mostly spoken theatre, many Western classics and some Korean pieces produced by high-ranking directors, often with star actors. (My picture on the left shows a poster of a Hedda Gabler-production) Under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, together with a second venue, Chongdong Theater (정동극장), dedicated to traditional performances, it serves as a showcase of Korean theatre. According to the official homepage, “This historically significant theater building from the past has been resurrected and is now dedicated to producing quality contemporary theater and steadfastly embracing the future.”

Various historical images can be found on the blog “Memorandum” and on another blog dedicated to the “Memories of Myeongdong National Theater”.

– 14 March 2015 (土)

  • 김성희, “명동예술극장의 역사성과 새로운 정체성” (The historicity and new identity of Myeongdong Theatre), 연극평론 60 (2011). (Link)
  • Kim Moon-hwan, “Renovated Myeong-dong Art Theater Opens its Doors”, Koreana (Sept. 2009). (Link)
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Back Home: Seoul Stages Just Turned Five Years

It’s been exactly five years since I started this blog,*** right after arriving in Seoul for a year of intensive Korean classes at Sogang University. My first post is, when I read it today, a rather obscure text on memories, ghosts, and a walk through my neighborhood in Sinchon (신촌), all written in front of a convenience store overlooking the rotary. Indeed, this area is still quite “haunted” for me and I spent a considerable amount of time here, one month in a motel, one week in a guesthouse, and almost a year in a hasukjip (student boarding house), all within a radius of one minute.

After settling down on the other side of Mapo district in late 2011, I have visited the neighborhood infrequently, often for a performance at Mary Hall, the on-campus theatre of Sogang University (She She Pop are regulars there). There are new apartment blocks as well as new buildings on campus, the former railroad tracks between Sinchon and Hongdae have been turned into a park (at least partly), there is a new subway station, some restaurants are gone, others have emerged. What is clear is that things keep on changing… and so will this blog.

When looking back at the last five years of mostly irregular blogging, I found my original plan—to present parts of my ongoing research on pansori—to give way to more diverse impressions, often unrelated to pansori or theatre. Recently, I went to see more art exhibitions and wrote about some of them. In 2010 and 2011, when I was in the middle of getting into existing Korean-language research on theatre, I posted translations of the tables of contents from books that had impressed me. Now that I have grown (a bit) more accustomed to reading in Korean, I rarely do this anymore. At times I experienced with videos, but kind of grew tired of holding the cellphone, especially during performances. Nowadays, I try to add more images and galleries. From the start, the blog has been a great way to keep on writing, more casual and wider in scope than the dissertation.

Here are some fun facts from the last five years, provided by WordPress:

The most popular post is, incredibly, one of those translated tables of contents, that of Seo Yeon-ho’s History of Korean Theatre (the first volume on modern, i.e. Colonial era theatre). The runner-up is a glorified link to English translations of the five classical pansori pieces provided by the Jeonju Int’l Sori Festival, probably the most click-baity post I ever wrote. Seems that just adding the word “free” really works! The third place goes to a follow-up to a Shakespeare paper that took quite a lot of time, in effect an “update” with several mini reviews of literature on the matter that were published after the article.

The number of posts per year has, after the enthusiam (and freedom as a student) of the first year (32 posts in eight months) had worn down, steadily increased: nineteen (2011), twenty-one (2012), twenty-four (2013), twenty-five (2014), and so far ten this year. Recently I have re-visited many posts drafted out at an earlier time and generally posted shorter texts (mostly written on the way to work and back), this way increasing the posting rate a bit. I’m not sure if I can keep this up, but we’ll see.

world map of blog visitors between 2012-02-25 and 2015-05-12 via

world map of blog visitors between 2012-02-25 and 2015-05-12 via

With regard to the visitors’ location of origin, South Korea clearly dominates with 3,877  thus during a period of about three years. The United States (2,826), Germany (1,850) and the Philippines (1,061!) follow, then Great Britain (531), France (316), Singapore (286), and Canada (267).

The most frequent search string, besides my name, is “pansori lyrics” (remember, those free ones) and then, interestingly, “karl valentin”, an early 20th-century comedian from Germany (I wrote a report on a Korean production that uses some of his sketches quite a while ago.)

The majority of referals (whatever that might be?) comes from Facebook and there are some from Twitter (where I am not very active). But there are also those visitors who come from other blogs that put me on their blogroll—thanks a lot to the following three that I know of (finally did the same):

  • Prof. CedarBough Saeji’s “Footnotes” on mask dance play, pungmul-training, Korean academia, and so much else—and with great photos!
  • French filmmaker Yann Kerloch’s “Timeless, bottomless”, where he shares his “views on Korean music, movies, and whatever I want”.
  • Janet Hilts’ “timbre.tales”, a blog on classical music, both old and new, in Korea and by Koreans, unfortunately a bit sleepy these days.

Finally, to get an overview on what I usually write about, this is the top–12 of categories (some posts are filed under two), unsurprisingly spearheaded by pansori-related posts and more or less detailed recollections of performances I attended:

I hope that this might be an occasion for some of you to dig a bit deeper into this mess of ephemeralia, “objects that people tend to accumulate, like receipts and ticket stubs and tissues” (according to the Urban Dictionary). Like German new folk philosopher Odo Marquard (about whose death at the age of eighty-seven I just learned today) said: “I don’t collect, I just don’t throw anything away.” (quoted from memory)

– 12 May 2015 (火)

PS: By the way, I recently found out about a “twin site” on theatre in Japan: “Tokyo Stages”. Since early 2009, Tokyo-based writer, editor and translator William Andrews blogs on “Japanese contemporary theatre and performing arts”. Have a look at his insightful and detailed texts on a variety of themes related to theatre in and about Japan.

*** Although the first post is dated May 2nd, I actually posted in on the 12th. As you may have noted, the dates given at the end of my posts are not necessarily identical with the day of uploading. They rather refer to a date relevant to the content of the post.

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New Exhibition at Hapjungjigu: Incompetent Talents by Kang Dong-Hyeong


After the opening of art space Hapjeong Jigu (합정지구, Facebook) earlier this year, this is already the third exhibition. On show are recent works by painter Kang Dong-Hyeong (강동형), graduate of Kookmin University (국민대학교).

If there is a connecting theme, it might be the slightly idealised depiction of situations commonly associated with uselessness. The Korean title “Dajae Muneung” (다재 무능, Versatile Talents/Incompetence) slightly alludes to this, while the English one (“Cultivated Mind”) might be read slightly more cynically.

Three middle-aged men crammed in a small underground room, one immersed in his cellphone, another playing a driving game on an elaborate homecomputer setting, the third somewhere in-between (Guild room / 집회소); two guys shooting cans just for fun, somewhere in the countryside, in a non-descript backyard, a third one taking their picture (Marksmen / 숙련된 사수들); two men drawing comical characters on a whiteboard, certain to be whiped out soon (Trace / 따라그리기); three men sitting on a wooden resting place (평상), in different poses somewhere between exalted and exhausted, surrounded by packs of cigarettes, empty plates, and a PET-bottle of beer (11 PM / 오후 열한 시).

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The funny thing: On the opening, I could spot many of those faces depicted in the paintings… (see some pictures on Facebook)

One of the few paintings that might invite a concrete political interpretation is Stand (버티기), a phalanx of neon-yellow policemen with one “civilian” bystander (a demonstrator?) reflecting in a cartoonish speech bubble-style: “The whole day I have been thinking about you while walking and in the sky I was looking at the grey clouds were flowing by, seething” (하루를 너의 생각 하면서 걷다가 바라본 하늘엔 흰 구름 말이없이 흐르고 푸르름), lyrics from the song “Just the Laughter of that Woman” (그녀의 웃음소리뿐) by veteran singer Lee Moon Sae (이문세, *1957), the “pioneer of the ballad movement”  (listen to the song on Youtube).

Kang Dong-Hyeong 강동형 Stand 버티기, oil on canvas, 117x80cm, 2015

Kang Dong-Hyeong (강동형) Stand (버티기), oil on canvas, 117x80cm, 2015

Is this another way of looking at a generation of apolitical mid-thirties with their heads in the clouds? But then, the daydreamer is rather looking down than skywards. According to the artist, the painting is also a comment on the military culture—almost all men have to serve for two years—and its influences on social and spiritual life in Korea. I couldn’t stop but think of the recent demonstrations in the wake of the one-year-memorial of the man-made Sewolho-catastrophe, too, although the painting might not be directly related.

Kang Dong-Hyeong 강동형 Shoes 신발, pen and ink on paper 종이에 펜과 먹, 2014

Kang Dong-Hyeong 강동형 Shoes 신발, pen and ink on paper 종이에 펜과 먹, 2014

Besides nine oil paintings of various formats, there are also twelve pages of ink-drawn manhwa, the short story “Shoes” (새신발) which deals with the precarious situation of a generation unable to buy the desired footwear. If you find the handlettering in the original drawings difficult to read, there is also a version with printed text in the exhibition pamphlet, available for 3,000 ₩.

Kang Dong-Hyeong 강동형 artist picture in front of Trace 따라그리기, oil on canvas, 117x80cm, 2015

Artist Kang Dong-Hyeong (강동형) in front of the painting Trace (따라그리기, oil on canvas, 117x80cm, 2015)

Among the paintings, I think I like Trace (따라그리기) best. It is shown on the street-display so you can see it even outside the opening hours (Tue-Sun, 12–7pm). Have look if you pass by!

– 24 April 2015 (금)

  • 강동형, 다재 무능, 합정지구 (마포구 서교동 444-9번지), 2015년4월24일 ~ 5월15일, 무료입장.
  • Kang Dong-Hyeong, Cultivated Mind, Hapjungjigu (Seoul Mapo-gu Seogyo-dong No. 444-9), 2015–04–24 ~ 05–15, free entrance.
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We’ll Meet Again: Lee Man Hee Retrospective at the Korean Film Archive

Before the Cinema

Before the Cinema

I had seen a few Korean movies in Paris, but those were for the most part international festival darlings like Oldboy (올드보이) by Park Chan-wook, Binjip (빈집) and almost everything else by Kim Ki-duk, The President’s Last Bang (그때 그사람들) by Im Sang-soo, or French favorites like Le Jour où le cochon est tombé dans le puits (돼지가 우물에 빠진 날, The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well) and Conte de cinéma (극장전, Tale of Cinema, see my review of a later Berlin-screening) by Hong Sang-soo. These were recent productions about contemporary life in Korea or, in a few cases, about more recent historical events, such as the assassination of “president” Park Chung-hee.

The one and only movie I saw in Korea, however, was from the 60s and had just been rediscovered when I attended a screening in 2006. It was Holiday (aka A Day Off, 휴일, 1968) by Lee Man Hee (이만희 / 李晩熙, 1931–1975, see a more extended essay on the “forgotten master” at KoBiz). Due to censorship, the movie could not be shown publicly after production, got lost and had just been rediscovered and brought to the big screen then.

A Time of Cinema - Lee Man Hee Retrospective at Cinematheque KOFA

A Time of Cinema – Lee Man Hee Retrospective at Cinematheque KOFA

Today, I went to see Homebound (귀로 / 歸路, 1967, screening info) that, as it turned out, opened the full-scale retrospective “A Time of Cinema” (영화의시간), held on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Lee’s death. He died at the early age of fourty-three, but his output is tremendous: In a span of less than fifteen years, he shot over fifty movies, about half of which remain. Twenty-six films are shown at the Cinématheque KOFA until May 14. There are usually three screenings a day and all of them are free of entrance, some screenings also feature English subtitles (marked in the schedule). Several events, as well as a photo exhibition at the Cinema Museum one floor above accompany the retrospective. (See also a report on a Lee Man Hee-retrospective at the London Korean Film Festival 2011)

Lee Man Hee, Homebound (1967) via Korean Film Archive

Lee Man Hee, Homebound (1967) via Korean Film Archive

Homebound turned out to be a fascinating melodrama, old-school in black and white, with much rainfall, close-ups of clocks, and cigarette smoke. The constellation is simple: An invalid and traumatized war veteran (Kim Jin-kyu 김진규) who writes newspaper serials and a beautiful wife (Moon Jeongsook 문정숙) who sacrifices her life and ambitions for her husband. She delivers his manuscripts, which replicate the story of the impotent husband and his idealized wife but fail to gain popular success, to the news office in central Seoul, where she eventually meets a daring journalist (Kim Jeong-cheol 김정철), from the society section, nonetheless. As time passes, the two develop a strange relationship, close to an affair, but the attachment of the wife to her husband undermines the romance, although everyone (even her husband, by giving his serial novel a new twist) suggests to her to find another man.

And then there is the setting, downtown Seoul in the late 60s, the train station, a nearby church (the office highrise in-between, where I used to work for a year or two, has not been built yet), surrounding restaurants and bars, as well as the smokey newsroom… Masses of people walking by, dressed in traditional clothes or salesman-attire, taxis and limousines, buses and a streetcar (didn’t know they still existed at that time), and a surreal car chase in the middle of a six line road at night. Besides the story, which, despite the very simple setting, is emotionally quite complex, the historical impressions alone made the film worth watching.

Anyway, having attended the screening in quite casual clothes, I felt underdressed and didn’t join the numerous actors, directors, film critics, and other contemporaries of Lee Man Hee, who were present at the opening, in their attack on the buffet. I will surely return to the cinema, though, for more imagery of Seoul in the 1960s and some more great movies to come!

PS: Just found out that the film is available online at Youtube, courtesy of the Korean Film Archive. You have to prove that you are older than 19 years to see it, though. There is also a blogpost with some film stills and the original poster, as well as the recording of a talk (in Korean) on “Korean society and womanhood, seen through movies” by Prof. Kim So-yeong (김소영), held after a screening of the film in 2013.

– 23 April 2

  • “영화의 시간” – 이만희 감독 전작전, 한국영상자료원, 시네마테크 KOFA 1관, 2015년4월23일~5월14일, 무료입장.
  • “Time of Cinema”, Lee Man Hee Retrospective, Korean Film Archive, Cinematheque KOFA, 2015–04–23 ~ 05–14, free entrance.
Posted in At the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

She She Pop and their Dads in Seoul: Theatrical Genealogies from the Family Album

When studying theatre in Berlin, back in the early days of this century, I loved seeing theatre that took itself serious—no make-believe, no drama, no night like any one before (disclaimer: I still do). At that time, performances by René Pollesch (Telefavela, Death of an Intern), Gob Squad (legendary: King Kong Club), Rimini Protokoll (Torero Portero, Deadline, Black Tie…) were all the rage in academia, at least in the small world of theatre studies. Just a few years before, Hans-Thies Lehmann had coined the label “postdramatic” for these and other practices that didn’t rely on a literary work, but rather took off on their theatrical explorations from personal experiences, social or media phenomena (social media didn’t exist yet), everyday and/or professional life, or simply some playful situation. Many among this new generation of theatremakers had graduated in Applied Theatre Studies at Gießen University, so sometimes these groups are also referred to as the “Gießen-school”.

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

Strange though, in Berlin I had never attended a performance by She She Pop. With their highly self-reflective, personal, performative works, this female collective of experimental non-actors is usually counted among the postdramatics. Finally, in Seoul I got to see their latest and probably most successful work, Testament (유서), invited by Goethe-Institut and Festival Bo:m (페스티벌 봄) to perform at Mary Hall, the theatre of Sogang University. That year the festival was very much postdramatic and presented a solo-piece by Rene Pollesch, the furious Casablanca-cum-capitalism-criticism Ich schau dir in die Augen, gesellschaftlicher Verblendungszusammenhang!, as well as a video-talk with Hans-Thies Lehmann (but that’s a story to be told another day).

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

Working at Goethe-Institut Korea (주한 독일문화원) at that time, I had written the announcements for the shows and that way had learned a bit more about this quite unusual piece of “reality-theatre”. Although often alluding to Shakespeare’s King Lear, this is merely a red thread that shines through from time to time. The performers of She She Pop discuss—in real-time, live on stage—their generational relations with their fathers, exactly in this double sense. Because they have brought their fathers with them, even to Seoul!

I saw the play twice, first the final rehearsal and then the afternoon show on Saturday. And what can I say? It was really moving to see the 40-something actresses (one male) and their fathers perform what must have become a routine by now, two years (and some international tours) after the premiere in 2010. (And the show goes on! See some reviews of guest performances at the Barbican, in Toronto, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as well as a moving blogpost from there, and another review.)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

Despite the casual and improvised feeling of many scenes, most of them are scripted, some quite ostentatively. But don’t our interactions with family (and friends we know long enough) follow more or less fixed paths and habits? A few images stand out, e.g. the fathers, dressed as kings, judging the lives of their children, or live video montages of the daughters (and the one son) who, now, wear the crownes themselves. And of course the karaoke-style performance of Celine Dion’s Titanic-theme, more on M-sli©k da ninjA here) “Something’ Stupid”, famously performed by Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy in 1967, is heartbreaking, again and again, and even on Youtube:

Are family ties unavoidable destiny that can only be problematized relentlessly? I believe in elective affinities (I want to, at least), but nevertheless have to admit that time spent together, the first and most impressive years, is difficult to strip off. Future projections, including senior cohabitation (which demands the destruction of books for lack of space—doesn’t that sound quite Nazi-like?) and retirement homes made me think of the years to come. Theatre about the past for the future, certainly not the worst kind!

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

She She Pop & their Fathers: Testament (Photo: Doro Tuch)

For further reading (if you can get past the pay-wall), Kate Bredeson has written an extended review of the piece (“The Sum of Testament is Love”, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 36.1 (2014),45–52).

– 14 April 2012 (토)

  • 극단 쉬쉬팝과 그들의 아버지들의, 유서, 페스티벌 봄, 서강대학교 메리홀 대극장, 2012년4월13일 (토), 오후 3시~5시.
  • She She Pop and their Fathers, Testament, Festival Bo:m, Sogang University Mary Hall, Main Hall, 2012–04–14 (Sat.), 3–5pm.
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The Mask Museum in Namhae

I wrote this post after seeing the amazing map of really important museums by Michael Schmalenstroer (see his blog), so far mostly in Germany, but destined to grow!

In the fall break of 2010, I made a short trip down South with a good friend. In three days (and four nights), we visited Jeonju (where we saw the college musical Sweeney Todd aka 스위니 토드), Tongyeong (where we visited one location of Hong Sang-soo’s movie Hahaha), and, in-between, the Mask Museum on the island Namhae.

S5007018The Namhae Mask & Performing Arts Village (남해국제탈공연예술촌) was founded in 2008 by Prof. Kim Heung-woo (김흥우), former head of the arts school at Dongguk University (동국대학교 예술대학), in a remodeled primary school. It presents Prof. Kim’s large collection of masks from Korea and all over the world. But there are also theatre posters, working scripts, and souvenirs, including the glasses that actor Go Seol-bong (고설봉) wore in the piece The Unconquered [Woman] (정복되지 않은 여자, based on a short story by Somerset Maugham) or the favorite (?) pipe of actor Jeong Jin (정진). A treasure trove for theatre fans! And in the summer a theatre festival (남해섬 공연예술제) is held, too.

Apart from the main building, there are two other smaller halls where, among others, historical documents on the drama ensemble Sinhyeop (극단신협, “considered the most outstanding theatre company of the post-liberation period”, according to an announcement of the ensemble’s 60th anniversary performance at the National Theater) that Kim headed and the mobile-theatre-movement (이동극장) can be seen.

The mask museum is a true gem, indeed, and everyone who visits the wonderful region and is only slightly interested in theatre should stop by. For those who cannot go, the homepage also offers a “smart museum” (스마트 박물관), an online collection of images of masks, theatre poster, pamphlets etc.

The following gallery (my first one!) shows some of the exhibits I photographed back then, just recovered from an old harddisk. You can find some more impressions on the Ministry of Education’s blog as well as on some other private ones.

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– 23 Nov. 2010 (火)

  • 남해국제탈공연예술촌, 경상남도 남해군 이동면 초음리 1418, 관람시간: 오전 9시 ~ 오후 6시 (동절기: 오전 9시 ~ 오후 5시), 휴관일: 매주 월요일, 입장료: 2,000원, 문의: 055 864–7625.
  • Namhae Mask & Performing Arts Village, Gyeongsangnam-do Namhae-gun Idong-myeon Choeum-ri 1418, opening hours: 9am–6pm (9–6 in the winter season), closed every Monday, entrance fee: 2,000 Won.
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Käthe Kollwitz and the Kokkiri

Käthe Kollwitz - SeMa exhibition posterToday I went to Northern Seoul with my advanced German students to see some art by Käthe Kollwitz (케테 콜비츠). One of the most prominent modern artists from Germany—and one of the few women with a name in the world of art—, Kollwitz’s works are strong statements against war and social injustice. As her works a difficult to see in Korea, I found the temporary exhibition at Buk Seoul Museum of Art (북서울미술관) in Junggye-dong a good chance, not only for aesthetic discussions, but also for some background talk on the First World War, Weimar Germany and the Nazi Rule.

Käthe Kollwitz at SeMa Buk Museum of Art

Click for large view

The exhibition shows about 50 prints (woodprints, etchings, lithography etc.) as well as one scultpure, the famous Pietà (Mutter mit totem Sohn, Mother with her Dead Son) that is shown as an over-sized replica in central Berlin, in memory of “the Victims of War and Tyranny”. All these works have been lent from the Sakima Art Museum in Okinawa. I had expected some more sculptures, actually, like the self-portrait we had seen back in Berlin last summer, at the infamous Kollwitzplatz.

Berlin, Kollwitzplatz (2014)

Berlin, Kollwitzplatz (2014)

Before entering the exhibition, we shared some background information on Kollwitz’ life, including the early death of her son in World War I, her sympathies for socialism and the pacifist movement, as well as her extraordinary life as a woman in the arts. Kaiser Willhelm II had, in fact, denied her a prize in fear of decreasing its value when offered to a woman. (You can find out more about the relation between Kollwitz’ work and war in a BBC radio-piece by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum and curator of the recent “Germany: Memories of a Nation”-exhibition there.)

In the Kollwitz-exhibition, everyone chose two works for discussion. There were many impressive pieces of art, but I found these two the most interesting:

Käthe Kollwitz, “Child Run Over” (Überfahren / 차에 치인 아이), softground etching on paper, 1910.

Käthe Kollwitz, “Child Run Over” (Überfahren / 차에 치인 아이), softground etching on paper, 1910.

This moving picture shows parents carrying their dead child. I didn’t suspect any personal connections, as Kollwitz’ son did later in 1914, but, as noted on the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s homepage, “In 1903, Kollwitz’s older son caught diptheria, and the threat of his death led her to use death as a major theme in her work, as shown here by a mother and father carrying their dead child.”


Käthe Kollwitz, "Sleeping Woman with Child (Schlafende mit Kind / 아이와 잠든 여인), woodprint, 1930.

Käthe Kollwitz, “Sleeping Woman with Child (Schlafende mit Kind / 아이와 잠든 여인), woodprint, 1930.

This image of a sleeping mother with her child is quite in contrast to many images of death and suffering, showing a peaceful nap in the dark, the silhouettes shown only slightly, as if touched by a ray of light.

I had arrived a bit early and visited another exhibition on show at the museum. The English translation of the title “Unfolding the Folds of Elephant” (코끼리 주름 펼치다) is a bit funny (sounds like a title by Haegue Yang, in fact), but the works on display and the context are quite interesting. There are works by artist Oum Jeongsoon (엄정순) that deal with elephants.

Oum Jeongsoon: “Elephant WALK - to the place where clean water and grass is 1”, acrylic, oilstick on paper, 220x650cm, 2010 (엄정순: “코끼리걷는다 - 물과 풀이 좋은 곳으로 1”).

Oum Jeongsoon: “Elephant WALK – to the place where clean water and grass is 1”, acrylic, oilstick on paper, 220x650cm, 2010 (엄정순: “코끼리걷는다 – 물과 풀이 좋은 곳으로 1”).


The story of the first elephant in Korea (which the artists considers a symbol of “cultural unfamiliarity”) is really interesting:

Originally, there were no elephants on the Korean Peninsula. This strange animal […] first came to the Korean Peninsula 600 years ago as part of an effort towards resource diplomacy; it became a burden to citizens and they resented the animal as they raised a storm of appeals to King Sejong to get rid of the elephant.

But Sejong published a royal edict: “Send her to a place with fresh grass and water so she will be free from hunger and illness.”

Side-a-side, there are clay sculptures made by students of different schools for the visually impaired, after touching a real-life elephant.

Here are some works with comments by the students:

Park MinKyoung: “Incheon Elephant”, Incheon Hyegwang School for the blind, Elementary School 3rd year, mixed media, 550x120x120cm, 2009 (박민경: “인천코끼리”).

Park MinKyoung: “Incheon Elephant”, Incheon Hyegwang School for the blind, Elementary School 3rd year, mixed media, 550x120x120cm, 2009 (박민경: “인천코끼리”).

When I touched the nose of the elephant, my hand sunk all way into the nose. It was sticky, huge and blowing.


Yoon Junsoo: “Elephant which came back from space exploration”, Kangwon Myung-jin School for the blind, Elementary School 5th year, mixed media, 150x120x80cm, 2011 (윤준수: “우주를 탐헙하고 온 코끼리”).

Yoon Junsoo: “Elephant which came back from space exploration”, Kangwon Myung-jin School for the blind, Elementary School 5th year, mixed media, 150x120x80cm, 2011 (윤준수: “우주를 탐헙하고 온 코끼리”).


Won Hee-seung: “Elephant”, Incheon Hyegwang school for the blind, 9th grade, clay, 16x25x20cm, 2009 (원희승: “코끼리”).

Won Hee-seung: “Elephant”, Incheon Hyegwang school for the blind, 9th grade, clay, 16x25x20cm, 2009 (원희승: “코끼리”).

An elephant used to be an imaginary animal for me, but when I touched it I learnt how it looked. Its legs are so thick. How can it have legs that support such a huge body? I only made the legs, leaving the rest to the imagination.


Kim Seon-do: “Elephant” , Incheon Hyegwang school for the blind, 7th grade, clay, 30x67x20cm, 2009 (김선도: “코끼리”).

Kim Seon-do: “Elephant” , Incheon Hyegwang school for the blind, 7th grade, clay, 30x67x20cm, 2009 (김선도: “코끼리”).

The roughness of the nose is most remarkable.


Hwang Chae-yun: “Elephant”, Cheongju School for the blind, earthenware, 20x15x15cm, 2012 (황채윤: “코끼리”).

Hwang Chae-yun: “Elephant”, Cheongju School for the blind, earthenware, 20x15x15cm, 2012 (황채윤: “코끼리”).


Both exhibitions are still running for a few weeks—highly recommended for friends of art and elephants!

– 3 Apr. 2015 (金)

  • 케테 콜비츠, 서울시립미술관 북서울미술관 사진갤러리 1+2, 2015년02월03일 ~ 04월19일, 화-금: 오전 10시 – 오후 8시, 토․일․공휴일: 오전 10시 – 오후 7시, 월: 휴관, 도슨트 시간 매일 오전 11시 & 오후 2시, 관람료: 무료, 주최 및 후원 서울시립미술관, (사)평화박물관건립추진위원회, 문의: 김혜진, 02–2124–5269.
  • Käthe Kollwitz, SeMA Buk Seoul Museum of Art, Photo Gallery 1+2, 2015–02–03 ~ 04–19, Tue-Fri: 10am – 8pm, Sat., Sun., Holidays: 10am – 7 pm, Mon.: closed, docent tour: every day 11am & 2pm, entrance: free, production and support: Seoul Museum of Art, Peace Museum, inquiries: Kim Hye-jin, 02–2124–5269.
  • 코끼리 주름 펼치다, 북서울미술관 전시실 1, 2015년03월05일 ~ 05월10일, 전시시간: 위, 참여작가: 엄정순, 시각장애학생, 도슨트 시간: 오후 12시, 관람료: 무료, 주최 및 후원서울시립미술관, 사)우리들의 눈, 문의: 양혜숙, 02–2124–5268.
  • Unfolding the Folds of Elephant, SeMA Buk Seoul Museum of Art, Exhibition Hall 1, 2015–03–05 ~ 05–10, opening times: see above, participating artists: Oum Jeongsoon, visually impaired students, docent tour: every day 12pm, entrance: free, production and support: Seoul Museum of Art, Another Way of Seeing
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