Pickling and a wife’s sacrifice to artistic sensibilitiesKnowing women who married artists, it appears to me that fascination with art seems to be the key element to their enduring their irresponsible husbands. This, of course, is an exception among artist couples, which many artists refer to as “incest.”
I say this because many women I’ve met who are married to artists often tend to be overtly sacrificing. They seem to have reached a state of nirvana when it comes to endurance, taking the discord that clearly results from the selfishness of their husbands almost as a fateful retribution for their previous lives.
I am still appalled by the imagery of the food on the table when my aunt took me to Shin Gyeong-gun’s home late last year. Mr. Shin is a well-known ceramicist who lives on the outskirts of Busan. Surely, we didn’t expect the host to serve us a meal. But as we prepared to leave the house, he insisted that we stay for an early dinner. Seconds after he said this we were taken to his dining room, where his wife laid out dishes of food on a long, long table, some of which I could not even reach.
It was a hearty meal, I must admit. At the same time, I felt bitter that my pleasure was a consequence of someone else’s sacrifice.
The food, which was individually served in eclectic porcelain bowls made by Mr. Shin, included an exotic variety of pickled dishes. There were pickles made out of persimmon and mandarin orange skins, sesame leaves, onions and Japanese plums. While we were eating, Mr. Shin picked pumpkin leaves from his garden and offered them to us as a rice wrap.
In fact, I don’t think I could describe the richness of the textures and colors of each item contained in those little bowls. I ended up devouring two and a half bowls of rice. It was only after I finished the meal, though, that I noticed the exhausted face of Mr. Shin’s wife as she came out of her kitchen.
Since they’ve been married, Mr. Shin said he spends six months at his studio on a mountain. While he focuses on his work, his wife looks after the couple’s two children alone.
Whatever the reason, most women I’ve met who are married to artists seem to endure their partners, not as their husbands but as exceptional individuals who are born that way. This always made me curious. Why couldn’t women artists be married to non-artists and get the same respect from their families?
A curator I recently met put it more bluntly for me. “The quality of work by many women artists noticeably declines when they get married,” she said. “Then they get better after a divorce.”
These questions are inherited from my mother’s story. I grew up hearing about Chang Uk-jin, an artist who is fixed in my mother’s memory as an angry neighbor who was drunk most of the time, banging on her door when my aunt played the piano in the house. She recalls Mr. Chang’s wife, however, as a woman who walked around the neighborhood in her white Buddhist robe every morning, beating her wood block.
“He’s lucky the paintings fed his family well after he died,” my mother still says.
Some of us are just the way we are. But some people take too much advantage of that sometimes. That’s not fair.
How to Cook
Pickled Chili Peppers
Ingredients: 500 grams of green chili peppers, 3 cups soy sauce, 1 cup vinegar, 1 teaspoon crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon diced green onions, 1 teaspoon sugar, a small amount of sesame seeds, red pepper and sesame oil
1. Wash the green peppers and place in a jar with vinegar. Press with stones or other heavy object for seven to 10 days.
2. Wash the pickled peppers and place in a separate jar. Press again, adding the soy sauce. To serve, mix with the red pepper, sesame seeds, green onion, sugar and sesame oil.
by Park Soo-mee