Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Hanji Exhibition

My great friend Heather invited me to her hanji (Korean traditional rice paper) exhibition. She has been doing hanji art for approximately 8 months and her single piece of painstakingly crafted hanji furniture was entered in the exhibition, a feat that she is proud of and rightly so. Many of the entries, especially those of the larger furniture items, are the result of individuals dedicating months and months of their time to craft the single item. Imagine in the "old days" when such exacting art was only possible for the nobility or richer classes of people. But then the commoners didn't need such frivolities as they just didn't have any extra socks or clothing items to put in the furniture.

Notice the bas relief detail on the round container, a rice container for keeping bugs and mice away from the precious staple. To achieve such a raised artistic application, the artisan had to carefully handcut the shape 5-7 times and then glaze-glue each layer individually onto the surface of the container [the base material is either made of cardboard, which becomes very sturdy with all the layers of hanji and rice-flour glue, or of wood itself]. Then after each was glaze-glued on, the shape had to be pounded very hard over and over again to achieve a strong denseness that would wear well over time and survive some battering in the household environment.

Next notice each of the boxes and their intricate design. For cutting such intricate designs, patterns were of course used but no cutting template, so the endeavor took hours and tremendous steadiness of hand. Many of the lattice-work detail evident on the surface are the repetition of symbols based on Chinese characters. Heather's art director had guided us "foreign" girls on a tour around the showcase room and explained the symbols and colors delicately combined in the artistic creations. Many of the symbols I was familiar with but the one which I had only seen in the Korea University Museum was the 'bat', which is very propitious is meaning!

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