Femme impressionism: Cover girls of east Asia

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Femme impressionism: Cover girls of east Asia

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If Cosmopolitan was the iconic women’s magazine that led a sexual revolution in the West, Lady Dong-A (Lady East Asia) was the bible for young female Korean readers in the same era wanting to become good wives.
While Cosmo featured sexy cover shots of aspiring career women in low cut dresses, Lady Dong-A featured paintings of idealized female beauty ― images that quickly set new trends among young women.
“Women Theater” exhibits selected magazine covers of Lady Dong-A that were published between 1967 and 1981, the heyday of the magazine before it descended into a tabloid of celebrity gossip.
The pictures convey women’s life and fashion during a period of fast-paced modernization in Korea. They show the roles placed on young women by society and how quickly trends changed.
In earlier paintings, the women are adorned in girlish scarves and unnaturally curly hair. Portraits from later periods depict women in shorter hair with boyish outfits. But overall, the models are looking off camera in a passive gesture.
The exhibit is interesting, mainly because a popular woman’s magazine came up with the idea to use use artists’ paintings for their covers in an era of widespread commercial photography. It’s surprising to learn that the magazine was an important route for young painters to debut in the art world.
The same exhibit features “First Song,” an experimental film by Kim So-young about the history of Korean female writers. The film was also screened during last year’s Women’s Film Festival in Seoul.


by Park Soo-mee

“Women Theater: Covers of Lady Dong-A” runs through December 31st at Ilmin Museum in Gwanghwamun. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information call (02) 2020-2055.
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