A mother’s love

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A mother’s love

The author is the culture editor at the Korea JoongAng Daily.


When I met Yun Suk-nam at the Hakgojae Gallery in central Seoul, where an exhibition of her work is opening on Tuesday, she wore a plain but stylish outfit and spoke in a clear, powerful voice that belied her advanced age of 79. It was hard to find anything old or stubborn about her. She did not dwell on the colorful wooden sculptures that brought her international fame, instead focusing on the paintings done in a traditional style that she newly discovered in her 70s. In Yun, I could see the embodiment of eternal youth.

Most of her work focuses on motherhood and advocates the power of women through motherly love and feminism. But when I asked her about young feminists’ tendency to reject the idea of women’s maternal nature, she responded, “It is only fair. There are many restrictions on women in the name of maternity. Women need to resist that restraint.”

Yun, whose works are in the Tate Modern collection, has earned international renown as a major East Asian feminist artist. Her biggest inspiration is her mother. After her father, a visionary filmmaker who was patriarchal, passed away, her mother had to support six children.
At the time, many mothers would sacrifice their daughters for the son and send girls to work at factories to make money for a brother’s tuition. Yun’s mother was different. She worked at a factory to support the family, and when Yun wanted to quit school and work, too, her mother became furious and made sure she was educated through college.

Yun’s memory of her mother defies the stereotype of the sacrificial matriarch. Her mother, she recalls, was generous and enjoyed life. She would save snacks from the factory to share with her children, and they would play games together. She loved reading Dostoevsky and was someone “who would skip a meal and offer to feed a beggar.” Yun respected her mother as a human being and found greater meaning in her generosity.
“Maternity does not always mean having children and raising them,” she said. “It is not about loving and caring for one’s own children. Motherly love is to embrace all others, especially those who are vulnerable. At the same time, we need to question how we demand unfair sacrifice in society and restrict women within families in the name of maternal love.”

JoongAng Sunday, Sept. 1, Page 35
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