Art

The nostalgia that hanji evokes

Artist Kyung Kwon, who works with hanji, finds inspiration in the traditional handmade Korean paper

Crowded canvases made of hanji (handmade Korean paper): On one the city of Seoul is propped on a picturesque mountain; a utopian world away from the frenzy of modern life.

The canvas depicts a fusion of reality and imagination, peppered with elements — such as a torn curtain — that hint at nostalgia. Artist Kyung Kwon’s penchant for finding a narrative in a myriad of ideas, reflects in her art done on hanji, which most often addresses fluid concepts like time and space.

Hailing from Seoul, the artist exhibited her work at Hanji Translated, a transnational show that featured the works of Indian, American and Korean artists organised by InKo Centre and Lalit Kala Academy earlier this month.

Weaving a story from a collage of surreal elements is what excites Kwon. The artist, who has majored in Oriental Art, often spends hours together walking the streets to take in details of anything that interests her. Her past experiences too inspire the work.

Kwon likes to walk to the places she has lived in to see how they have transformed over the years. In fact, this very contrast between modernity and tradition is what inspires much of her work.

The nostalgia that hanji evokes

As a young girl, Kwon says she stayed at home for a few months to look after her brother when he was injured. “Bored, I discovered old scraps of paper to draw on. Soon enough, I found hanji and ever since, it has been my favourite medium to work on,” she says.

Kwon recalls, “When my brother was injured, he yearned to be where we used to live. The old apartment, was in fact, his safe space.” And the concept of a safe space or at least elements that make that environment, almost always finds itself on her works.

The artist speaks of her introduction to hanji, the medium which has found collectors from across the world, with nostalgia. She says she also chanced upon ancient books on art history, from the Joseon dynasty for instance, which introduced her to the theory of the art form.

“For me, hanji turned out to be the most comfortable medium to work on,” laughs Kwon explaining how technically challenging it is to work on the paper. She also observes that hanji resonates with the kind of art she does — in terms of concepts and technique. In fact, to a question at a presentation before the exhibition, on her intent behind using water-related motifs in her work, Kwon said, “I like to deal with fluid concepts which I mostly relate with a flowing waterbody.”

But how do other young artists approach this ancient medium? The Oriental art forms, she says, were on the decline until recently when a boom of ancient forms came to the fore. “This was because more artists went abroad and hanji was recognised globally,” she states adding, “young artists started developing their own techniques.”

(In this series we feature people who continue to work as they travel.)

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 2:29:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/on-the-road-korean-hanji-artist/article26128047.ece

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