The commemoration of death through art does not typically call to mind a vivid array of colors, the hint of a smile or the notion of a joyful dance. Even so, the “Korean Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World” exhibit at the Fowler Museum do just that.
These funeral dolls, known as “kkoktu,” are meant to represent the Korean culture’s notion that happiness must pervade the dead as they enter the next world.
On display until Nov. 28, the exhibition showcases 74 Korean funeral dolls that were carved in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“The exhibit is a way to share Korean tradition and cultures to the world, and to make Korea a brighter place,” said Ockrang Kim, a collector of the kkoktu who spoke at the exhibition opening. “My mission is to show people (the exhibit).”
According to Kim, unlike other cultures that sought to honor only the deaths of the wealthiest, Korean culture used the kkoktu as a part of ordinary life.
Thus, some of the figurines are depicted in the typical costumes and poses of Korean village life, while other, more mystical creatures and acrobats represent Korean traditions.
Also on display at the Fowler is the exhibition “Life in Ceramics: Five Contemporary Korean Artists,” which delves further into the traditions of Korean art by showcasing the unique wares of five important Korean artists.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see Korean ceramics from a global perspective,” said Burglind Jungmann, guest curator and UCLA Korean art history professor. “To see ceramics as an object that can be used, both the art side and usable side.”
There are three aspects of Korean culture that contribute to the ceramic tradition ““ the requirements that they are used in daily life, that the designs of the piece include a part of the artist’s biography and that they follow East Asian aesthetics in the imperfection and unevenness of the technique, resulting in a piece that is frozen in the result.
“In Korea, there is an appreciation of ceramics that is very different from any other country I’ve been to,” said Lee In Chin, one of the artists featured in the “Life in Ceramics” exhibition.
“When we’re young, we eat out of ceramics. There’s something (about ceramics) in our blood,” he added.
The Korean ceramic tradition dates back to 8,000 B.C., and has an originality that has long been revered across the world.
According to second-year undeclared student Joshua Won, who visited the exhibition opening, the exhibit captures the differences between the Korean and American traditions.
“It’s important to see different cultures in different ways, and I think this (exhibit) is the perfect opportunity to get a piece of the Korean culture,” Won said.