The Korean Cultural Center in London from June 8 to Aug. 21 held the exhibition "Royal Palaces of Joseon" featuring photos and videos of four Seoul-based royal palaces -- Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung -- and Jongmyo Shrine.
I looked forward to this exhibition as I'd visited the four palaces of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and the shrine in previous visits to Korea. As I went there in spring, I wanted to see how cultural heritage photographer Seo Heun-kang and photographer-videographer Park Jong-woo captured the buildings in other seasons.
My favorite part of the exhibition was the replicas made by Hanji (traditional Korean paper) craft artist Yang Mi-young of the procession of the royal wedding in 1759 of King Youngjo and Queen Jeongsun. The artist used Jeonju Hanji to create everything -- the people, horses, musical instruments and ornaments. Hanji made in Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do Province, is acclaimed for its tradition and high quality, so it was used by Joseon kings.
Yang used as a reference "The Book of the Royal Wedding of King Youngjo and Queen Jeongsun," which contains 50 pages of illustrations of the wedding procession including 1,299 people and 379 horses and a detailed description of the event. This relic is one of the 297 royal Joseon protocols called Uigwe that France returned to Korea. A replica of the book was also part of the exhibition.
I was mesmerized by the delicate details and magnitude the artist created. The long lines of the people, horses and ornaments reflected a lively atmosphere to the point that I felt part of the celebration and could even hear the music, trotting of the horses and rustling of the garments.
My guide at the exhibition answered all my questions. She said each figure had its own facial expression and delicate, unique features. I could imagine the level of concentration, planning and delicate artwork that went into producing such masterpieces.
Apart from the faces, all other features were done well and every miniature detail had the utmost attention and precision. The instruments and objects the people were carrying were meticulously formed, as were the weaponry and ornaments.
After seeing the Hanji artworks, I went on to the photos and videos. I was impressed with Park Jong-woo's "Solemn Serenity," a video about Jongmyo Shrine. I'd visited the shrine before and felt its serene and respectful atmosphere, but the video had clips from real-life ancestral rites complete with traditional music. Jongmyo houses the spiritual tablets of Joseon monarchs and hosted royal ancestral rites. It was listed in 1995 as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2001, the rituals and music used at the shrine were designated UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The final part of the exhibition were the photos and videos of the four royal palaces in Seoul. Seeing the buildings, courtyards and gardens made me want to return to Korea. Watching the videos brought back the wonderful memories I had in Korea. As a bonus, I also saw something I hadn't seen before: winter and summer scenery at the palaces.
Seo Heun-kang's photo of the snow-covered Geunjeongjeon Hall at Gyeongbokgung Palace captured the moment so beautifully and realistically that I felt as if I stepped in the snow and felt the icy breeze. It was relaxing to stand in front of the picture and explore every detail.
The last photo of the exhibition was one of Jongmyo Shrine at night. Looking to the right of the photo, I noticed a London bus waiting on the street. This magical moment featured a contrast of old and new, night and day, traditional and modern, spiritual and existential, and Seoul, Korea, and London, England. This moment captured my experience at the exhibition perfectly.
By Korea.net's Honorary Reporter Marianna Szucs from Hungary