Garuda makes a nest at the National Museum

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Garuda makes a nest at the National Museum


When The National Museum of Korea, best known for chronicling Korean history through ancient artifacts, moved to its new location in Yongsan, central Seoul, last year, few took note of its new and groundbreaking exhibition ― its Gallery of Indonesian Art.
The museum used to exhibit only a few non-Korean artifacts, most provided by donors; the Korean museum’s own collection, under the Gallery for Asian Art, is considered embarrassingly meager compared with the impressively massive collections of renowned national museums around the world. “In the past, there wasn’t enough space for foreign artifacts. Collecting foreign art for an exhibition has also been hard, because in this economy-focused country, the budget for expensive cultural items is usually insufficient,” said Shin Young-ho, the coordinating curator and an expert on the preservation of artifacts.
Although the Korean museum has not historically been inclined toward cultural diversity, the timing was right for the creation of the gallery. In 2005, Korea and Indonesia celebrated their 60th anniversaries of independence from imperial occupations, by Japan and the Netherlands respectively, and the two governments decided to foster greater cultural exchange. Korea was able to borrow 109 artifacts, classified as Indonesia’s national treasures, for two years from the Indonesia National Museum.
The collection on display has drawn a large number of visitors, the curator said. One visitor, Rym Ok-jae, 60, from Gyeonggi province, said now that there was something new and interesting to see at the musuem, he found Korean artifacts “rather boring,” because he’d seen them before.
At the heart of the show are seven bronze artifacts, including a ninth century kettle drum from Sangeang Island, a western Indonesian province that was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.
The bronze drum has a shape of the timpani, a percussion instrument still in use today. It features several concentric circles in the center of the drum, which, according to experts, are believed to depict sunshine. Around the circles are also the figures of frogs, humans, mythical animals and birds. Archeologists assume that based on the figures, the drum had a ceremonial use, such as praying for rain or good weather. The generous use of bronze ― the drum is 101 centimeters (3.3 feet) in diameter and 73 centimeters high ― is impressive.
The hall also has several representations of Garuda, some carved in stone and others set in bronze. These are from Karangwingkai, the central part of the main island of Java. The place once used to be the location of the biggest Indonesian ancient kingdom, Majapahit, and it continues to be the most religious city in Indonesia, for both Buddhists and Hindus. In Indonesian mythology, Garuda is a heavenly bird and the vehicle of the god Vishnu. Though it looks like a bird, underneath its beak is a human, sitting down on a lotus cushion and clasping his palms at his chest.

by Jin Hyun-ju

The exhibition runs through October 2007. The National Museum of Korea is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is 2,000 won ($1.80) for adults and 1,000 won for children. Discounts are available for groups of more than 20. Go to Ichon station, line No. 4, exit 2. Walk straight for about 150 meters. For more information, go to
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