A special exhibition highlighting Korean culture is underway at the Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg in Germany. Entitled Uri Korea—Serenity in the Fast Lane, the show, a joint project of the Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg and the National Folk Museum of Korea, opened in December and will continue until the end of 2020. On display are some 300 items, comprising symbolic historical artifacts, artworks, and goods revealing life in Korea from the late years of the Joseon Dynasty in the 19th century through to the present day. The exhibition also displays various photographs and videos to offer further insight into the exhibited works. The exhibition sheds light on a variety of objects and materials testifying to the pre-modern and modern lives of Koreans, who achieved unprecedented economic development in the 20th century. The show is particularly meaningful as it departs from the usual exhibits focusing on ancient artifacts, employing much broader cultural content combining the traditional arts and contemporary life. Curators and other staff members of the two museums prepared the exhibition through rounds of consultations and visits over the course of two years.
In this exhibition, Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg well-known for its vast Korean collection of nearly 3,000 objects, presents craftworks, paintings, clothes, and other articles that provide a glimpse into the peculiarities and excellence of the culture of 19th-century Korea. The items include donations by H.C. Eduard Meyer, a merchant active in Korea in the late 19th century who also established a trading company in Jemulpo, Incheon; Gisan Pungsokdo, a genre of paintings by “Gisan” Kim Jun-geun; Daedong yeojido, a map of Korea by renowned cartographer Kim Jeong-ho; Cheolje eunipsa sonhwaro, a silver-inlaid incense burner; and Kkachi durumagi, an outer coat of brilliant colors worn mostly by young boys.
Also enchanting is the rich selection of objects, photographs, and videos that symbolically interpret contemporary Korean life, such as the many subway train advertisements for plastic surgery clinics; people drinking poktanju, or the Korean-style boilermakers made with soju and beer; and students preparing for college entrance by participating in online classes. There also are interesting goods that exhibit the peculiar creativity of Koreans such as the motorcycles and metal cases used by food deliverymen; a type of washcloth known as “Italy towels”; a backscratcher called hyojason, meaning the hands of a pious son; and popular instant coffee mix sticks that come in varieties with or without sugar and milk. These products show the Korean ardor for education, their insight, dynamism, and sense of competition, and the trend of valuing speed and high-quality instant results.
There is no shortage of links between Korea and Germany, with the former’s “Miracle on the Han River” and the latter’s “Miracle on the Rhine,” both having achieved remarkable economic growth by overcoming the adversities of war and territorial division. The two countries also came together at a recent football match at the 2018 World Cup in Kazan, Russia. It is greatly hoped that Korea and Germany will continue their exchange for mutual growth in the fields of the economy, culture, national defense, and other areas. In this regard, the ongoing exhibition is expected to serve as an important vehicle for encouraging more Germans to take interest in Korea and its culture.
Written by Kim Daniel