Exhibit documents ancient Asian culture

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Exhibit documents ancient Asian culture

“Light and Sounds of Asia” is an ethnographic documentary that chronicles the dying traditions of ancient Asian cultures through sounds and images.
The show, currently on display at Insa Art Center, details the lives of ethnic tribes and modern Asians who still engage in ancient rituals. It delves into the poetics of their sounds, the costumes and the details of their surroundings, and what they have to say about the collective identity of their Asian roots.
The result is a mix of visual richness and sounds of profound subtlety.
Images, which are often presented in the style of travelogues, attempt to pose a grand view of several cultures with several images pasted into a mosaic.
“Thai Golden Triangle,” an area widely known as a rich area for narcotics, looks at how several different tribes from Burma, Thailand and Laos celebrate the New Year. Despite the festive ritual, the overall atmosphere of the musicians and dancers is subtly melancholic.
The images also include hundreds of Indonesians transporting goods that will be used for their annual ritual and scenes from exorcist rites in Myanmar and fishermen in Sri Lanka who cling to tall wooden poles embedded in the sea floor to catch fish.
What’s more fascinating about the exhibit is the audio, which was recently put together into an album.
The show collects various sounds from different regions. One of the most impressive works is a document of Mongolian shepherds humming in the wide prairie to bring home their grazing sheep. Others include Uzbek children singing while they play in the streets, cradle songs and the sounds of cutting grass in the Indian countryside. Many of the pieces are humming or use basic instruments made of bamboos or simple fixtures of brass, but the subtlety of the keys provokes an unfamiliar sentiment that modern sounds overwhelm.
Overall the show is a glimpse into images that define Asia as a land of primitive energy and exotic charms. This might trigger critical debates on Orientalism. But the angle of the project seems to be focused more on the archival aspect of ancient Asian traditions rather than an attempt to give a fixed meaning. The camera doesn’t seem intrusive, undoubtedly thanks the exhibit’s creators, documentary experts Kim Su-nam and Choi Sang-il.
Kim is a photojournalist who spent his last 30 years documenting images of Korean shamans performing exorcisms. Choi, a sound expert, is a television producer who collects and archives ancient folk songs from across the country.
The two have collaborated over the last 10 years, traveling to 11 regions in Asia for the show.


by Park Soo-mee

“Light and Sounds of Asia” runs through July 19 at Insa Art Center. For more information call (02) 736-1020. To get to the gallery get off at Anguk Station (line No. 3) through exit 6. Walk Toward Jongno. The gallery is on the fourth floor.
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