Art as reflection of change is a vital
aspect of creative energy in our culture.
Such a manifestation is a key theme of Reconciling [hwahoe] Femininity
[yeosong] and Confucianism [yugyeo]:
Expressions of Contemporary Korean Women Artists, a collection of
mixed media art by six Korean women artists.
Expressions of femininity have traditionally been frowned upon in
a Confucian societyy and reconciliation of identity as postmodern oeuvre has proven to be fertile ground for artistic
expression, especially pertinent for Confucian women artists of
Many scholars have suggested that Korea is perhaps the nation in
Asia most steeped in Confucian ideology, surpassing China, the founding
country of Confucianism. Within this context, women of Korea, especially
artists, find themselves forced to challenge the traditional
ethos inherent in everyday Confucianist culture of gendered hierarchy.
In Reconciling Femininity and Confucianism the artistic journey
six women is presented as visual dialectic for the American audience
to develop a better understanding of the shifting demarcations of
identities. Korea is undergoing a period of transition as the past
and present converge, creating a unique culture with promise for
equitable society capable of transcending Confucian limitations.
Reconciling Femininity and Confucianism was organized to introduce
individual and personal art of Chang Sungah, Lee Hwira, Im Boklae,
Kim Jungsun, Oh Jinyoung, and Lee Myungjin as interpretative statements
of their identity as Confucian women artists. While their methodologies
vary greatly, the contextual voice of the exhibition, however, remains
consistent. The artists express their femininity in increasing discord with
Confucianist society by searching their own history to produce work
that conveys their
unique interpretations. For the artists, the process of reconciling
their femininity with Confucianism is a means of realizing a sense
of values as people,
and as women. In this sense, the exhibit represents, a coming of
age for these women artists in Confucian Korea.
Historically, Korea has always been intertwined with the dominant
cultures of China. Contemporary Confucianism in Korea has
evolved from the original moralistic Analects of Confucius (552
- 479 BCE) or (Gongja) who lived in China some two thousand
five hundred years ago. By the Goryeo dynasty in Korea (918 - 1392),
Confucian ethical codes were applied to the upper echelon
of the society. Confucianism was given due recognition as a practical
way to handle state affairs...but it never penetrated deep
into everyday existence. The emergence of Neo-Confucianism during
the Joseon dynasty (1392 - 1910) represents the nationalistic fervor
that resulted in the pervasive ideology that still resonates in
contemporary Korean society. The reverence for Confucianism is evidenced
the deification of it scholars and the image of Yi Hwang (1501 -
1570), better known by his pen name Toegye, whose image appears
on the most often used
1,000.00 won note (Korean monetary denomination).
the neo-Confucian principles espoused by the scholars was filial
with the king commanding the utmost position of authority over subgroups
of clans organized hierarchically by gender, age, and class.
With the support of a hundreds of years of history of male-centric
practice, the ideology of Confucianism has become completely indoctrinated.
Until now, affirmation and assertion of femininity in Confucian
Korea has been at best a passive and futile exercise. Today, the
Confucian- based patrilineal social structure is facing challenges from the
traditionally marginalized groups of the society who have always
They are questioning the relevance of such an antiquated system
for contemporary culture. In the new millennium, it will be necessary
reconcile the transforming contemporary cultures with the traditionalists
who advocate maintaining a status quo on current social systems.
Reconciling the two opposite spectrums will pose a unique, if not
altogether impossible challenge as society evolves to meet the demands
of a rapidly transforming society.
The culture in transition is creating a paradoxical meeting of Confucianism
and femininity. Women are actively engaged in explorations of identity
evaluating their own role in contemporary Korean society.