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Scent of Culture IV
Exhibition of Contemporary Korean Art Shown in Tunisia

40th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Korea and Tunisia
Grace K.H. Kong
President, Gallery KONG
To observe the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Korea-Tunisia diplomatic relations, an exhibition of contemporary Korean art was presented in Tunis, with support from the Korea Foundation, Korean Embassy in Tunisia, and the Tunis Museum of Art.

Due to Korea’s limited cultural exchange with African countries, the recent exhibition of Korean contemporary art in Tunisia was the first of its kind since a touring display of Korean art had been shown in Morocco and Qatar in 2007. Accordingly, this exhibition project focused on the works of six of Korea’s leading contemporary artists, who have been introducing Korean arts and culture to the world by combining traditional and modern elements, in their works of photography, video, painting, and installation.

Keen Media Attention
The exhibition featured two photos of pine trees by the widely acclaimed Korean photographer, Bae Bien-u, that expresses Korea’s vigorous and resilient character, along with a photo by Kim Jung-man, “Clothes of the Wind,” which captures the demure beauty of a Korean woman. Paintings on display included three monochrome works by Kim Teaksang, which combine modern depictions of nature and aspects of Korean-style wrapping cloths, as well as five works by Kim Soo-kang, who used a unique “gum-bichromate print” technique that blurs the typical borders between photography and painting.
To coordinate the exhibition setup, I visited Tunisia, along with video artist Lee Lee-nam and installation artist Bahk Seon-ghi, who is known for the creation of works made from pieces of charcoal. Upon our arrival, we encountered various difficulties, including sultry temperatures of over 40°C and the month of Ramadan, during which time the local residents and museum staff engage in fasting. Nonetheless, Bahk Seon-ghi and Lee Lee-nam had no major problems setting up a large-scale installation work, reaching a height of some four meters, and a video work that vividly depicts Korea’s four seasons on a large LCD screen, in time for the exhibition’s opening. The museum director and staff members, who provided assistance over a three-day period, seemed to be noticeably pleased and impressed with these works, which I thought might be a favorable indicator of the exhibition’s overall success.
Subsequently, we attended a media conference at the Korean Embassy in Tunis. A senior reporter from La Press, a leading daily newspaper of Tunisia, asked detailed questions about the works of Bae Byung-man, Kim Soo-kang, Kim Teak-sang, Kim Jung-man, Bahk Seon-ghi, and Lee Lee-nam, while repeatedly exclaiming “Extraordinaire!” Saying that he would immediately write a feature article for his newspaper’s cultural section for the following day, he hurried off to meet his deadline. An art reporter of Le Quotidien said he decided to attend the media event because he was greatly impressed by Kim Jung-man’s “Clothes of the Wind” image, which was printed on an invitation to the exhibition that he received from the Tunis Museum. He could hardly hide his surprise and admiration for the splendor of Korea’s contemporary art. The Korean artists, Bahk Seon-ghi and Lee Lee-nam, received a number of interview requests from the broadcast media of Tunisia and Lebanon.

Enthusiastic Reception
Bahk Seon-ghi’s “An Aggregate 2009” installation work included three conical forms, created from Korean-style charcoal, that were suspended from the ceiling. The conical forms were meant to symbolize Tunisian artifacts – ancient jars from the time of the Roman Empire. Visitors to the exhibition were intrigued by the visual impact and dramatic effect of the more than four-meter-high cone shapes. They also showed much interest in Lee Lee-nam’s state-of-the-art video work, an interpretation of “Inwangjesaekdo,” the masterful landscape painting of Mt. Inwang by Joseon Dynasty painter Jeong Seon (Gyeomjae), which features vivid imagery and vibrant sound.
An opening ceremony for the exhibition was attended by leading figures of Tunisia’s government, cultural, and media sectors, including the directorgeneral of the Formative Art Bureau of the Ministry of Culture and the deputy director-general of the Asian Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to the Korean Embassy in Tunis, the exhibition attracted not only Tunisia’s local residents but also many foreigners in the country, especially the diplomatic staff of Europe and other regions. The museum staff also noted that the exhibition traffic accounted for a threefold increase in the regular level of museum visitors. It was estimated that about 1,000 visitors came by to view the exhibition works, including a gathering of some 250 at the opening ceremony.
It was probably a surprise for the visitors to see such a diverse range of contemporary art genres on display, including video, photography, and installation, since contemporary Tunisian art mainly involves painting. Local residents with an interest in art said that they had no idea of the advanced state of the contemporary art of Korea, which is better known for its economic success. According to the media in Tunisia, the exhibition served as a timely opportunity to appreciate Korean art, which depicts the beauty of Korea’s traditional culture and nature through a blending of traditional and modern aspects.
Also of note, it was said that Bahk Seon-ghi’s work, especially created for this commemorative exhibition to observe the 40th anniversary of Korea- Tunisia diplomatic relations, would be donated to the Tunisian Ministry of Culture. Korean lawmakers Lee Kyeong-jae and Huh Cheon of the ruling Grand National Party, whose visit to Tunisia coincided with the exhibition period, stopped by to view the works on display, along with offering their words of praise and appreciation for the efforts to promote cultural exchange with such noteworthy works of art.

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