Posted : 2013-10-17 16:29
Updated : 2013-10-17 16:29

Korean craft draws growing global interest

"Black Luster" by Korean lacquer ware artist Chung Hae-cho
/ Courtesy of KCDF

Gov't supports old craftwork, modern designs

By Chung Ah-young

Culturally advanced nations have enviable art communities or manufacturers that are dedicated to producing work that sells. French company Sevres is renowned for its high quality porcelain while Murano in Italy produces vintage, artistic glasses. Oberammergau in Germany is home to world-famous woodcarvings.

Unfortunately, Korea has yet to take advantage of recent increasing interest in Korean art and craft in countries around the world. Given the potential of Korean products as high value-cultural goods, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism recently revealed a long-term project to encourage the craft industry. The plan will encompass more international exchanges with other countries and create craft-friendly regions while connecting traditional artworks to modern needs.

According to a government survey, the number of artisans engaged in producing porcelain, wood art, textile and metal craft is estimated at 30,000 but most of them work in dire circumstances because domestic demand for their products is dwindling.

Compared to other fields such as K-pop, fashion and food, the Korean craft scene received scant attention until the "Constancy and Change in Korean Traditional Craft 2013" exhibition was held at the Milan International Furniture Fair, Italy in April. At this event, the aesthetic values of Korean arts and crafts created by 16 talented artisans were presented. They were made in various materials including ceramics, fabrics, wood, silver, paper, and lacquer. Gathering momentum, examples of Korean craftwork were also presented by the Korea Craft & Design Foundation (KCDF) at Collect at the Saatchi Gallery in London from May 10 to 13 for the first time.

After a series of international presentations of Korean craftworks, the British Museum purchased lacquer ware artist Chung Hae-cho's work, "Black Luster." Chung's works drew the attention of European connoisseurs through a series of recent events. The museum already has a collection of Korean lacquer ware dating from the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) Kingdoms.

"Hanji" (Korean traditional paper) baskets, top, and textile works were presented at Maison & Objet Paris in France on Sept. 6-10.
/ Courtesy of KCDF

Chung's other lacquer bowl set was also sold to the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum through Collect. Chung has successfully combined his masterful techniques in Korean natural lacquer "ottchil" with contemporary designs. Textile artist Chang Yeon-soon's work "Matrix II" was also purchased by the V&A Museum at Collect. The work is a textile architectural-like structure made using a natural indigo dyeing method.

The KCDF also brought Korean craftworks at Maison & Objet Paris in France on Sept. 6-10 and Revelations, art and creative crafts fair, at Grand Palais in France on Sept. 11-15.

Elaine Kim, deputy director of the World Jewellery Museum in Seoul, who oversaw the 6th Cheongju International Craft Biennale, said that it is important for Korean craftsworks to find export markets for global circulation.

Labeled as "new" and "hybrid" forms of cultural representation, Korean contemporary crafts show how craft traditions evolve in response to contemporary social and cultural concerns.

"Many foreign art experts say that Korean artisans seem to embark on their design process from a very deep personal place. They think that the concept of Korean work originates from a personal, private source, hidden within the design and the motif of the work, whereas the Chinese or Japanese designers are much more focused on the material or formulaic aspect of the work. They find that approach very different and fresh," she said.

Korean contemporary craftworks are shown at Maison & Objet Paris in France on Sept. 6-10. / Courtesy of KCDF

Kim said that Korean contemporary craftwork holds both modern aesthetics and traditional identity, creating a new art form. "Many people outside the nation have long been fascinated by Korean craftwork. Although the work is mixed with modern elements, foreigners identify them as distinctly Korean."

To more aggressively boost the rise of Korean craft in the global design scene, the government will support more projects with industrial sectors to combine traditional art methods and modern designs to create a synergy effect.

It will designate 20 workshops to make the public feel closer to art and craft and 10 masterpieces by 2017 and support product development and overseas marketing. Also, it will select five villages specialized in producing their work and develop them as tourism spots connected to art. The five villages will include Bukchon in central Seoul, designated as a pilot craft workshop village in 2011. Bukchon where "hanok" or traditional Korean houses are situated was home to traditional craftsmen who produced works used in palaces during the Joseon Kingdom.

To globalize Korean craft, the government will support more participation at international fairs such as France's Maison & Objet, Britain's Collect and the U.S.'s SOFA, while making forays into Southeastern Asian countries such as Thailand and Singapore. It will hold the world crafts expo in 2015 to promote them globally.

Crossing boundaries

Various collaborations between traditional artisans and modern designers or industrial brands are one of the options in place to nurture the Korean craft industry.
A Japanese artisan of Wajimalacquerware collaborated with luxury brand manufacturer Louis Vuitton, and created monogram-patterned lacquered accessory cases.

Likewise, a couple of years ago, the BMW 7 Series Korean Art Edition was launched with an interior adorned with "Najeon Chilgi," traditional lacquerware inlaid with mother of pearl, handcrafted by master artisan Sohn Dae-hyeon who is recognized as one of Seoul's intangible cultural heritages.

Also, a luxury golf putter was manufactured this summer through a collaboration of five master artisans specializing in traditional metal craft, sculpture and lacquer art. The handmade putter is adorned with traditional Korean patterns depicting the clouds, mountains and a dragon.

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