“Annyeonghasaeyo” has become as ubiquitous as hello. Everything associated with the Land of the Morning Calm has reached fever pitch, whether it’s K-pop, K-drama, or K-beauty. Thanks to the cultural cachet of all things Korean, luxury beauty brand Sulwhasoo’s efforts in promoting its national culture by supporting the arts has resonated with audiences far and wide.
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The annual Sulwha Cultural Exhibition (now in its 11th edition) has seen the brand partnering with Korean craftsmen, architects, designers and artists to create artworks based on a specified theme. In recent years, it has evolved from celebrating ancient arts and crafts to merging age-old folklore with modern art. This shift does more than celebrate childhood tales. It highlights traditional Asian values such as filial piety, loyalty and honesty, which are held dear to Koreans and passed down for generations. “Sulwha Cultural Exhibition creates an encounter between tradition and modernity, bringing younger generations closer to the tradition that otherwise feels too distant to them and facilitates communication between different generations,” the exhibition notes explain.
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This year’s exhibition is based on “A Fairy and a Woodcutter”, a popular tale narrating the tumultuous love story between two characters. Working with artists from genres as diverse as carpentry, embroidery, glass work and multi-media design, Sulwhasoo commissioned 13 works of art, each depicting a scene from the tale.
The resulting pieces took many shapes and forms. Hye-ja Koo’s intricately embroidered Fairy’s Robe of Feathers, inspired by what the fairy wore when she left the woodcutter and ascended to the sky, references typical women’s clothing of the Joseon Dynasty, juxtaposed against the graphic grid-like structures of the Sulwhasoo flagship store. Jung Jae Hoon’s Ithaca, a life-sized pumpkin-shaped boat, is an interpretation of the vessel that the woodcutter sailed in to visit the fairy, and combines ancient carpentry methods with conventional raw materials, updated in a modern aesthetic.
Each piece of art brings to life a tale steeped in Korean history and tradition, exemplifying how modern art and traditional legends can meld seamlessly with one another. Sulwhasoo hopes to start a dialogue beyond the physical confines of the art work and expand cultural appreciation through new mediums. By going back to the past, perhaps we will learn that old wives’ tales are not just the thing of myths.
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