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Exhibition by Yeol highlights craft of ox horn inlay and porcelain works

By Hwang Joo-young

Published : Aug. 26, 2023 - 16:01

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Ceramic artist Kim Dong-jun (left) and craftsman Han Gi-deok (Yeol) Ceramic artist Kim Dong-jun (left) and craftsman Han Gi-deok (Yeol)

An exhibition that highlights the art of dedicated craft through porcelain and ox horn inlay artwork is set to take place at Yeol Bukchonga in Anguk-dong, central Seoul until Sept. 23, the Korean Heritage Preservation Society -- also known as Yeol -- announced Thursday during a press conference held in the exhibition space.

Dubbed "Woobomanri: An Enduring Walk Towards Purity," the exhibition celebrates the stewardship of traditional craftsmen and artists in pursuit of aesthetics and their fresh attempts for a modern audience, said designer and exhibition director Yang Teo at the press conference. "Woobomanri" is an idiom that means "A diligent ox can walk 10,000 ri (around 4,000 kilometers)."

The exhibition presents 30 sculptures of ox horn inlaying and porcelain artworks by craftsman Han Gi-deok and ceramic artist Kim Dong-jun, who are being honored as the Artisan and Young Craftsman of the Year for 2023, respectively, by Yeol.

Ox horn inlaying, called "hwagak," consists of peeling and flattening the inside of ox horn, and then planing it down into pure "gakji" (ox horn paper), on which designs are sketched and painted over a long process for use in decorating furniture or small interior items.

A cabinet and two chairs that are covered with flattened ox horn are on display. (Yeol) A cabinet and two chairs that are covered with flattened ox horn are on display. (Yeol)

“Those who know or have heard of hwagak in the past will think of it as focusing on fancy colors or patterns. But I tried to focus on the pure texture of ox horn for this exhibition,” Han, 49, explained, “I hope this might lead to creating a new era of hwagak craft works with great potential.”

One of the highlights of Han’s craft works is a cabinet and chair set decorated with flattened ox horn.

Ceramic artist Kim Dong-jun's white porcelain wares or Ceramic artist Kim Dong-jun's white porcelain wares or "baekja" are on display. (Yeol)

Dedicated to crafting "baekja," or white porcelain wares, for over 20 years, 42-year-old Kim has made an array of baekja that replicate porcelain forms of the Joseon era (1392-1910).

“While preparing for the exhibition, what I kept in mind was the harmony between nature and porcelain,” Kim said, “Rather than giving the ceramic bowl edges a feeling of tension, I emphasized their freedom and simplicity."

During the press conference, Kim highlighted the unique charm of Joseon-era porcelain.

“Among ceramic artists, it’s often said that the very technique of crafting baekja is about how to hide the technique in the works. Joseon-era baekja is known for the focus on functionality rather than design," he said. "However, their appearance is still mesmerizing. I believe this suggests that functionality itself can present some aesthetic aspects in artworks.”

In addition to their own works, Han and Kim together created ceramic bowls decorated with hwagak ornament to experiment with creating synergies through new combinations of forms.

Yeol is a foundation established in 2002 after acquiring approval from the Cultural Heritage Administration.

As part of its initiative to preserve tradition and cultural heritage, Yeol signed a five-year partnership with luxury fashion house Chanel in 2022.

“Chanel Korea has actively engaged in campaigns and activities that aim to preserve traditional heritage to help connect the past with the future,” an official from Chanel said during the press conference.

The exhibition "Woobomanri" runs through Sept. 23. Admission is free.