During the month of October 2022, Gwang-ju Media Art platform GMAP in Gwangju City, South Korea’s sixth largest metropolis displayed on its façade, the ‘Memories of Four Seasons’ show by artist Oh Myung Hee, much to the delight of unexpecting onlookers. The artistic display is part of the larger exhibition ‘The Days Were Snowy But Warm’ being exhibited at the Venice Biennale until the end of November 2022. The show is sponsored by the Korea Foundation, and is partnered with Samsung The Frame.
In her exhibition, Oh Myung Hee, explores the pivotal years when ‘traditional’ South Korea began transforming into a modern-day society. She mixes old Hwajo techniques with new materials and technology, applying it on a series of family photographs. The artist also creates video works for a black lacquered cabinet from Jeju Island, where she spent her summers as a child, bringing those memories forward to our time and space. Through her multimedia artistic expression and her female gaze with a historic distance, the artist mirrors the remarkable journey South Korea has undertaken to become one of the world’s most prosperous nations.
In her quest, Oh Myung Hee is particularly interested in the social changes that occurred amongst South Korean women in 1954. These were partly inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s morale boosting visit to the American troops stationed there, following the armistice in 1953. She juxtaposes the image of a traditional Korean wife in an unassuming, monochromatic dress, seated in a dignified position with scarcely clad, confident and free Monroe standing in front of 17,000 American soldiers on one side. On the other side instead, she put Hye-Seok Nah, the Korean pioneering feminist, writer and artist, elegantly dressed with a luxurious fur collar, l’enfant terrible of her times. Both women ended their lives tragically, Monroe taking her own and Hye Seok Nah in abject poverty.
It was while remembering that performance in front of the American troops in Korea that Monroe recollected that ‘it was snowing but it felt warm, it felt like home’.
Oh Myung Hee also contrasts the images of a large Korean family from her father-in-law’s photo album, with two ‘wives’ on each side, the “main wife (bon-cheo)” and the “second wife (cheop)”, seemingly content. There is a stark contrast in the narrative of these images of solitary women, traditional or not, standing alone and strong, with the image of the two groups of men, tightly squeezed together and uniformly dressed, emanating the strength of a group.
The series of works of art ‘The Days Were Snowy But Warm’ and ‘Nostalgia’ shown in this exhibition, also form a part of Oh Myung Hee’s artistic inquiry into the significance of individual and collective memory. Likewise, the birds in her works of art symbolize the yearning of her spirit for utmost freedom.
A preview to the exhibition can be enjoyed digitally on Google Arts and Culture.
The exhibition can be visited free of charge until Sunday, 27 November at Palazzo Mora in Venice, Italy.