North and South display their craftsAlthough it has been six decades since North and South Korea became divided, the traditional craftsmanship of both nations retains the essence of the Joseon era. At Deoksu Palace’s Seokjojeon, the First Interchange Exhibition of Traditional Crafts between South and North Korea is being held until Sept. 20, displaying more than 600 items. Sponsored by the Inter-Korean Traditional Crafts Exchange Committee, the exhibition is an effort to promote greater cultural ties between North and South.
The exhibition includes clothing (from a horsehair skullcap to ceremonial hanbok), embroidery, lacquer chests, kitchen utensils and pendants made of jade, among many other items. There are red marks on inscriptions in front of the North Korean items and blue marks for South Korean ones.
The items on display include 302 works by 72 “intangible cultural assets” designated by the South Korean government and 311 works by 76 North Korean “People’s Artists,” or state-designated artists. An embroidery work called “Tiger on Mount Baekdoo” by Rhee Won-in, a female embroidery expert and “People’s Artist” in North Korea, shows an impressive mastery of needlework. From a distance, it looks like a painting, but a close look shows it is needlework at its best.
Other impressive works by North Korean craftsmen include a celadon bottle with an inlaid chrysanthemum design, a two-tiered crown made from horsehair, a jade chest, dining tables and utensils, among others.
The colors of the traditional hanbok from the North are faded and they are less elaborate than their counterparts in the South. They appear to show the simplicity of the common people, whereas the traditional clothing made by South Korean craftsmen shows exquisite colors and designs. However, the embroidery by North Korean craftsmen is most impressive, especially items that copy famous paintings in minute detail.
In some exhibition rooms, items from the North and South are on display side by side, allowing visitors to compare the designs. One room displays traditional crafts-related books from North Korea, and explanations of how state craftsmen work in the North.
North and South Korea agreed to hold crafts exchange exhibitions every year. Next year, it will be held again in Seoul, and the following year in Pyongyang. After the exhibition, the works by North Korean craftsmen will be donated to museums and research institutes.
by Choi Jie-ho