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Preserving Cultural Heritage through Korean Embroidery
Jakarta exhibit showed need for keeping culture alive
Maria Margaretta Vivijanti (retty67)     Print Article 
Published 2009-10-25 16:31 (KST)   
Two years ago when I was invited by OhMyNews to come for its International Citizen Reporters' Forum in Seoul, I have the good chance to visit Indonesian heritage in the National Museum of Korea. I wrote about that experience in the Jakarta Post, one of our local English newspapers. I have visited that beautiful modern museum and also other several traditional buildings. I was also enchanted to see how modernization in Seoul continues with the traditional culture and architectures. I mentioned it in another article for Tabloid Rumah in its architecture travel column. But back then, I did not really put my interest in Korean embroidery. Now, far away from Seoul I had the experience of admiring colorful Korean embroidery and the meaningful lesson of preserving the intangible cultural heritage through the Korean Embroidery Exhibition in Indonesia's National Museum in Jakarta.

Korean embroidery exhibition enchanted visitors of Museum Nasional in Jakarta
©2009 Retty

The Korean Embroidery Exhibition offered its colorful and beautiful embroidery exhibits from October 13 to October 18, 2009. As a part of the Korean Cultural Week in Jakarta, it offered around one hundred enchanting exhibits and also a demonstration of how to make those beautiful Korean embroidery. South Korean Ambassador, Kim Ho-young, before opening the exhibition introduced the curator of the exhibition, Han Sang-soo, who is also the founder of The Han Sang Soo Embroidery Museum in Seoul. The ambassador praised Han Sang-soo dedication in keeping the art of Korean embroidery alive.

In the written profile there is additional information under her name: "Important Intangible Cultural assets No. 80 Master of Embroidery (Jasujang)". While preparing an article for wikimu.com, an Indonesian local citizen journalism website, I learned from UNESCO's site that those who gained such a honorary title should share their valuable knowledge with younger generation by teaching them to master the art of traditional technique and at the same moment developing the cultural heritage by creating new motifs.

Han Sang-soo is explaining some of the exhibits
©2009 Retty

In one of her interviews with professional journalists, I heard Han Sang-soo praised the government's effort to help preserving and developing the traditional cultural heritage. I think the way the Korean government tracked down their intangible cultural heritage, and gave special acknowledgment to artists who help preserve and develop it is a very good example. Yet, the responsibility of a master like Han Sang-soo to trained students is something that really thrilled me. As the information I gained from UNESCO's site, this responsibility comes together with incentives. That way, those who helping do research and develop intangible cultural heritage could fully concentrate on serving better contribution for the development of traditional heritage.

Embroidery was first introduced to Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) in the time of King Kojong. Coming from Persia, crossing India and China, it became renowned from works preserved mostly from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It was generally known as royal court embroidery.

From the exhibit brochure, you learn that the essence of the art of embroidery is not in its final presentation, but that it actually exists in the process of doing it. The artisan should be patient enough to concentrate on providing that beautiful design. It invites us, who live in the age when speed is the yardstick for judging things, to stop for a moment to reflect on the beauty of living at a slower pace. And, it is true...those colorful and beautiful designs offer the peace they were sewn with.

In all hand-made arts; including Indonesian's batik, tenun (weaving), or tenun ikat (tieing weaving) and songket, the process took longer time than needed by machine's production. While actually the spirit of the beauty is within the process of being, it also raised its production cost. Therefore, traditional clothes need to struggle to survive the market competition. Learning how it is done, the way Han Sang-soo's master students showed visitors in their demonstration can give a better perspective of that "hidden spirit".

On October 2, 2009, Indonesians rejoiced UNESCO's decision to include batik in its list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity". While proudly wearing batik, some of Indonesians are not aware on how to distinguish the batik (which used the genuine process of batik) from the printed batik (only using the motifs). A contributor in wikimu.com mentioned this fact, and reminded others on how to preserve the existence of batik artisans.

Seeing the demonstration of making Korean embroidery in Museum Nasional made me realized how important it is to keep educating younger generations. I've seen that Han Sang-soo's students who participate in the demonstrating the process of embroidery come from three generations. It is important to make sure that those who mastered the skill to hand down their skills and experience to younger generations. Then, to help others to see the beauty of the artistic process will help to keep the existence of markets.

The Korean Embroidery Exhibition not only gave me the pleasure to see those beautiful colorful collections of Han Sang-soo, but it is also reminded me of how important it is to keep the spirit alive in generations to come.
Rewritten with some changes from my own contribution for wikimu.com http://www.wikimu.com/News/DisplayNews.aspx?id=15500
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Maria Margaretta Vivijanti

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