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In Seoul, an Art Exhibition Sheds New Light on Traditional Korean Patterns

By Lynette Kee

 
Sulwha Cultural Exhibition 2019

Decorated with rows of translucent white fabric, the entrance to the exhibition provided a sense of comfort as visitors make their way into the house.

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Sulwha Cultural Exhibition 2019

Illustrated by artist JooLee Kang, the prints featured throughout the house adopts the essence of both traditional and modern art.

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Sulwha Cultural Exhibition 2019

The Sulwha Cultural exhibition this year coincides with Sulwhasoo’s ShineClassic powder compact, displayed in the dressing room.

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Sulwha Cultural Exhibition 2019

Equal parts modern and artistic, the kitchen showcases the theme of patterns in an animated screen as the table top.

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Sulwha Cultural Exhibition 2019

Adjacent to the house, the exhibition features a library made entirely out of books.

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Following the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition in 2018, this year’s exhibition, held by Korean beauty conglomerate, Sulwhasoo, was again hosted — for the second time in a row — at the Amorepacific Group Headquarters in Seoul. Each year, since 2006, the exhibition is christened with a new theme to bring the younger generation closer to Korean art and culture. And for this 13th instalment, the 2019 Sulwha Cultural Exhibition highlights traditional patterns embedded within the confines of an everyday home, aptly named “Micro-sense: House of Patterns”. 

The expansive concrete and glass building saw its lobby transformed into a sensual space with an actual house constructed as its centrepiece — featuring a living room, dining room, bedroom, powder room and a library. The house, designed with modern and elegant touches of draping fabric and geometric-shaped white homeware, created an intimate setting with a sense of familiarity. Stepping into the house, one was immediately immersed in a microcosm of classical patterns like butterflies, flowers, birds and animals, images that usually symbolise happiness and beauty. 

This year’s Sulwha Cultural Exhibition engaged eight artists with a unifying vision of preserving the distinct aesthetic values of Korean culture. “We visited some palaces and [were] inspired to see [various] beautiful patterns and felt that these patterns could even resonate with the contemporary [architecture] as well,” said Mina Kim, senior vice president of Sulwhasoo, in an interview with T Singapore. “We wanted to show how if you would just take the pattern out of its setting, it can [also] look very beautiful.” 

In Korean history books, traditional patterns have always been an organic part of various living spaces. Floral-patterned folding screens, dancheong (a type of Korean traditional painting) decorations and geometric door frames tend to be familiar sightings in Korean traditional palace museums today. Sulwhasoo’s greatest feat in this year’s exhibition is breathing new life into these patterns against the backdrop of one of the most ordinary, essential places in everyday life. “The reason [behind this exhibition] is to show that traditional culture is not just something that exists in your grandfather's house or in a museum, but are elements that you can showcase in your regular home — which is something that is very much of a contemporary time,” said Kim. In Sulwhasoo’s longstanding efforts of bridging audiences from different generations, these new patterns help connect the past and the present while proving to transcend generations and genres of architecture. 

It’s no secret that cultural preservation has always been a significant driver for Sulwhasoo — for instance, its ShineClassic powder compact, which was launched in 2003 to honour traditional artisans and their craft, is one of the two main pillars of its cultural mécénat (philanthropical) programme. “We wanted to identify and share the values of traditional culture before it’s forgotten,” said Kim. 

“[However], to some of our younger generations, tradition is perceived as an outdated concept that feels foreign.” And so, the beauty powerhouse has since devoted its time and efforts into creating a co-existence between tradition and modernity, which also became the overarching concept of the exhibition over the years. 

Inside the house, one is greeted by rooms that showcase the harmony of layered patterns and contemporary structures. Adorned with features that are unexpected in a typical living space against regular furnishings, the house “creates a well-balanced, yet unfamiliar proposition for visitors to contemplate.” In the drawing room, the limited edition 2019 ShineClassic powder compact is incorporated in the set-up as this is the first time Sulwhasoo has merged the two pillars of its philanthropical efforts. “Usually, the exhibition is held in October each year and the ShineClassic comes out at the end of the year,” said Kim, “but we selected the theme to be patterns [and] felt that it could be expressed spatially through a house and also through our ShineClassic, and thought it was a very good fit.” 

Sulwhasoo has long had a forward-thinking approach that still appreciates history and tradition. For example, Korea has long held ginseng as a valuable edible root, but it was Sulwhasoo who first incorporated the medicinal root in a cosmetic product. Decades later, the beauty house continues to embody the layers of wisdom expressed by its founder. “Culture develops when we share this beauty we create,” shared Kim when asked about the parallel between beauty and culture. “Cosmetics and beauty are in the same realm as culture in a way that they are all products [used to] express beauty. Through [this exhibition], we hope to be able to deliver this message.”