Handmade crafts and hand-me-downs

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Handmade crafts and hand-me-downs

Under the heat waves of June, a young woman tempts passersby with a cold glass of fruit punch. Next to her a 10-year-old girl, a sixth-grade aspiring artist, bargains over her drawings of popular cartoon characters ?the going rate, 1,000 won apiece.

Right across from them, an old copy of "The Castle" by Franz Kafka is laid on top of a cotton mat along with piles of comic books and a few other out-of-print books. While all this is going on, a reggae band, Asoto Union, plays on a nearby stage.

Since mid-May, an artistic, creative flea market has been held every Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. near the Hongdae playground in Seogyo-dong, western Seoul.

Dubbed "The Hope Market," a mix of Seogyo-dong residents and a cultural collective led by Zo Yoon-suk, a former member of the alternative rock group Hwang Shinhye Band. The Hope Market is part of Mr. Zo's ambitious projects in the neighborhood, to raise the profile of the already art-rich neighborhood.

The items on display in the flea market include a wide range of products, including handmade porcelain, artificial nails and used raincoats. But more originally, there are also designers and craftsmen who fix and tailor the clothes and furniture on site according to the customer's particular wants and needs.

Last Christmas, when the group of artists, writers and musicians first got together with the goal of producing some creative projects in Hongdae, many expressed the need for an exchange between artists and the public in the area. They hit upon the idea of a flea market as an optimal way to raise the area's profile and help communication.

"Artists in Korea experience difficulties because there are not spaces readily available to sell their works," says Mr. Zo. "For ordinary people, on the other hand, they can't afford to buy artwork in the galleries." The Hope Market, which began in time for the Seoul Fringe Festival, is reasonably large for the first organized market of its kind to be held in the area, taking the entire playground area. The market greets some 50 booths and 200 customers rougly visiting the market every week.

In fact, Sunday afternoons in Hongdae are normally the quietest time of the week, especially compared to the bustling weekend nights when young Hongdae regulars drink and dance until the morning hours. On Sundays, the artists and clubbers usually sleep the day away, making the neighborhood seem like any other in Seoul. Ever since the market began, though, not only have Sundays picked up, but the demographics have shifted too. More than just college-aged young people, people in their 30s and 40s have started coming to check out the diverse offerings.

Merchants here sell their goods with a genuine artistic sensibility, like a missionary trying to convert the general public. Compared to touristy areas like Insa-dong, the goods on sale here are unusually cheap. A large mug can easily go for less than 10,000 won ($8) and a handcrafted necklace for 5,000 won; you could easily pay three times that in other neighborhoods.

But it's not just commerce and trinkets. In Hongdae's Hope Market, it's not uncommon to see a customer standing in front of the artist, listening to him talk about the process of how he made, for example, a tiny hand phone accessory. It's a far cry from the typical, identical mass-manufactured goods you find on sale in most tourist areas.

Although not everything on sale in the market is handmade pottery or embroidery or the like, organizers here encourage the merchants to consider themselves as artists. Items people intend to sell here need to carry a creative aspect, even if it's just a cup of lemonade they are selling. "It's always good to bring an item that you think is original, like art," says the event coordinator Yun Young-ju. "Goods that are unique are the ones that sell best in Hongdae."

To avoid letting the market become too commercial, the organizers forbid the participant to sell goods that have been purchased from wholesalers. Everything sold here has come straight out of people's homes or studios.

Much of this approach to art and life comes from the way Hongdae hangouts view art in everyday life. The area has a reputation for producing young and playful artists and musicians who continually challenge the notions of high art and mainstream culture by taking their creative ideas to streets.

Plus, Hongdae is also one of the rare neighborhoods in Seoul where art and trade mingles naturally. Kim Seon-jin, a 25-year-old designer who sells used clothes and fashion accessories in the market, says, "It's a good chance to promote your work to the public. The crowd has been very friendly too. A casual exchange like this could only be possible in Hongdae."

The Hope Market runs through mid-July. For more information, call 02-324-2966.

by Park Soo-mee

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