Journey through Jeju

Seven artists from Jeju Island in South Korea display their works inspired by the land at InKo Centre’s gallery 

Published: 11th August 2022 06:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th August 2022 12:09 PM   |  A+A-

Photos: R Sriram

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  For many of us, and for many reasons, international travel is a distant dream. It’s the reason we revel in photos, videos and books that offer us any semblance of immersion into faraway lands. As I stood in front of a painting called ‘Mt Halla-Trace’, I soaked in the feeling of the deep blue waters, the crust of the towering volcano and the sun that delicately illuminated the mountain in Jeju Island — a vision created in acrylic paints and mixed media. This painting is among several others that line the walls of InKo Centre’s gallery and bring alive the unique traits of the South Korean island for ‘Into the light — an exhibition by artists from Jeju Island’.

The showcase marks the opening of The Gallery after a two-year hiatus. “This exhibition is special for us in more than one way because we are starting to come back and there is joy in doing that and meeting people. We have deliberately kept it in a small format as people are just coming back into the system. We thought a Jeju exhibition would be special because it is an island that is so symbolic of resilience and hope (values that sustained throughout the pandemic). You have female divers, man to nature connection, and a beautiful space scenically and otherwise. We also looked at how to look at it in a variety of media — you have oil paintings, acrylic, wood-cut media, paintings on Korean paper but laminated that makes it look like a picture, and other Korean techniques as well,” informs Rathi Jafer, the director of InKo.

Walls that come alive
Indeed there is much to absorb in the small display area, most created between 2020 to 2022, in the midst of the pandemic. And every piece brings you a little something of the island. ‘Mt Halla-Trace’ is a creation by Oh Seung-eik, who has been working on the theme for over 15 years. “It is a work that tells the story of life and destiny of a Jeju citizen. Hallasan, which is alive in the long history of Jeju Island, has a similar yet different story for each individual. I have a painful story about my relatives and my mother. I depict Mt. Halla as the main axis of this story on canvas,” says the artist.

Another artwork by Ahn Jin-hee captures the scenery, in its unique medium of wood carving and layering. “Previously, I did various works such as Korean painting, printmaking, watercolour painting, and acrylic painting. Recently, I am trying a new work that encompasses all of them. Using thin wooden boards, digging and drilling, it encompasses a flat work and even a three-dimensional work. I still have more room for improvement, but I’m struggling to show more sophisticated and profound artwork that moves others. The theme also aims to contain the many unique sentiments of Jeju, including history, culture, the natural environment, and even the mythology of Jeju in my life,” says Jin-hee. Paintings by Park Sung-jin (monochromatic, simplistic works showcasing the winters), Lee Su-mok (vivid works on Korean paper) and Ko Eun (in a Korean technique that offers a childlike charm) also captivate the viewer.

Transporting through canvas
In a corner, to which Rathi gestures, stands Son Il-sam’s ‘Sea of Jeju’, an ode to a culture unique to Jeju. A serene blue takes over the canvas with a bright orange drawing the eye to the image of the divers in the dark. “It’s interesting that almost all-women divers — some quite old — go diving with skin suits early in the morning and return late at night. The lacquer they bring back is used in their lacquerware work called Ott-chil. It is the women who carry the tradition forward, passing it on from grandmothers to mothers to daughters,” she explains.

Where Il-sam brings you the people, Lee Yeon-jung puts forth the landscape of Jeju island. Showcasing Oreum or the hills, the artist takes you on a journey as you climb along the ridge of the Oreum. “As you climb, nature captures your vision, recalls nostalgia, and inspires you as a space where happiness and longing remain. For the people of Jeju, the Oreum is life itself, including memories, hope, and faith. Jeju Oreum is a place that brings joy, sadness, and pain because it is related to the story of the lives of the people of Jeju, and it is kept deep in the heart and immersed in memories. So I chose this landscape thinking that Oreum is all about Jeju Island,” explains Yeon-jung. Perhaps, one day, I could climb the Oreum myself and understand what it means to those on the island, but for now, I will satisfy myself with the bright scenery on canvas.

The exhibition is on display till August 28 and will later be available on Prism, online.


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