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In this exhibition, the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art in the Humboldt Forum are showing for the first time a comprehensive presentation of the Ethnological Museum's hitherto little-known Korean holdings.

Around 120 works, including works by contemporary women artists, convey an impression of the rich Korean culture from the 19th century to the present and testify to Germany's interest in and fascination with Korea since the 1870s. 2023 marks the 140th anniversary of official diplomatic relations between Germany and Korea.

The title of the exhibition quotes the identity-forming Korean folk song "Arirang," of which rare recordings from German World War I prisoner-of-war camps are in the Ethnological Museum's phonogram archive. Two of these recordings - yearning songs of young Russian-Korean men from 1916/17 addressed to their homeland - are presented in the exhibition tour in the form of listening stations.

Joseon period (1392 to 1910).

The exhibition tour, which leads from the 19th century to the present day, begins with an introduction to the complex Korean society during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1910).

Using selected items from the Ethnological Museum's Korea Collection, the exhibition explores the social values that have continued to have an impact to this day, with in-depth sections devoted to, among other things, Neo-Confucian scholarship, the military, and the social role of women.

The latter was shaped in the Joseon period by rigid Neo-Confucian ethics, which strengthened the patriarchal system, for example, by prohibiting remarriage after widowhood or by reserving inheritance rights exclusively for male descendants.

Land of the hats

A focal point of the Berlin Korea Collection is Joseon-period hats, for which Korea, referred to in 19th-century travel literature as the "Land of Hats," was known.

With an expansive hat landscape, the exhibition presents the diversity of these hats and shows what they stood for.

In addition, it spans the arc to the present with hats made especially for the exhibition by the Berlin-based artist and fashion designer Fiona Bennett, whose creations are worn by celebrities worldwide and have already graced the cover of Vogue. It illustrates the extent to which the technically intricate Korean hats continue to fascinate the hat trade, which is almost extinct in Germany.

Bennett's hats themselves are made to speak in the exhibition and, as "Talking Hats," they tell fascinating stories about their eventful lives in an audio statement.

Korean Mask Theater

Another chapter of the exhibition is devoted to masks from various regions of Korea, which have preserved their tradition of humorous and satirical mask theater and dance to this day.

The tradition of mask theater dates back in part to the early Silla period (668 935). The focus is on criticism of the social elite. For example, the masks impersonate apostate clergy such as a sinful, scabies-infested Buddhist monk or immoral nobles, and amuse in satirical and socially critical plays conceived by the people for the people. Some of the masks are also used in rituals for good harvests and to ward off demons.

Korean painting yesterday and today

With loans from the National Museum of Korea, the exhibition also offers a rare opportunity to admire the delicacy of Korean portrait painting.

The four hanging scrolls, of which only two will be on display at a time for conservation reasons, show images of famous Joseon-era scholars with the attributes typical of the time. The modern paintings by Bae Unseong and the "Berlin Cycle" by artist Yerin Hong deal with themes of identity and homeland.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a program of guided tours, lectures, and artist talks.

Research Project on the Korean Collection of the Ethnological Museum

A research project funded by the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation and conducted between January 2021 and December 2022 under Henriette Lavaulx-Vrécourt and Claudius Kamps of the Ethnological Museum and under the direction of Professor em. Jeong-hee Lee-Kalisch, Freie Universität Berlin, to reappraise the museum's Korea collection forms the scientific basis of the exhibition.

The exhibition project is sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, the Korean Cultural Center, the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange, and the National Museum of Korea. We thank the Humboldt Forum Foundation for its support.

A special exhibition of the Ethnological Museum and Museum of Asian Art - National Museums in Berlin at the Humboldt Forum.

- free of charge
- Museum of Asian Art, 3rd floor
- Languages: German/English
- from 13.10.2023-24.02.2024
- Opening hours: Wed-Med 10:30-18:30, closed Tues.
Additional information
December 2023