Korean pop culture is a bit of a worldwide phenomenon now. Rain has had leading roles in films directed and produced by the Wachowski brothers; BoA is one of the top-selling pop acts in all of Asia and is now trying to conquer America; and Girls Generation have become the fetish objects for Yellow Fever infected white suburban boys from the US to France to Romania. But beyond the plastic veneer of Korean pop, there’s real, you know, art coming out of Seoul. With at least twelve months to go in South Korea, I’ve endeavored to find some of it. As I do, I’ll post about it, and to start off is the art of Kwon Kyung Yup.

Kwon has had exhibitions all over Asia, including Taipei, Tokyo and Hong Kong. There’s a running theme of trauma and loss throughout her work – almost all of which is self-portraiture – but there seems to be a comfort in that loss that’s reflected in the softly colored backgrounds and an intentional lack of the stark, harsh lines and backgrounds you’d expect from paintings featuring bandage-covered women that look like permanent patients in some future Korea’s psyche ward. No physical wounds are ever seen but the symbolic use of the bandages is pretty clear. What’s less clear is the meaning of the ubiquitous blue eyes.

The above piece, “Black Nails,” adds out-of-place femininity via a rose covered bandage to mouth-wiping swagger and the titular black nails. This amplifies the incongruity already present.

In the last of the above, titled “Daydream,” she looks completely at peace in her trauma. Almost like she enjoys the comfort in being in pain. Being a bit of a dilettante when it comes to art, I have quite a bit less to say about Kwon’s work than some people. Kho Chung-hwan says her pieces are about “encountering” and “making up with ontological trauma.” Which is essentially confronting the pain that happens to everyone when they find themselves as subjective beings operating with and against the world. This is most scarring when one is young, and, sure enough, Kho begins by talking about the Lolita syndrome (you can find his critique on Kwon’s site linked below). I’m not sure about all that. She doesn’t look very young in most of the pieces, and Lolita implies some kind of sexual objectification in youth that I don’t see here at all. Those paintings where the subject is less dressed than others may imply some kind of trauma enveloping sexual identity or development, but weakness of spirit – and rebellion against that weakness – seem to be the primary themes, and that weakness can be caused by all aspects of life.

Kwon Kyung Yup’s website

Kwon Kyung Yup on Facebook

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