Transformation of Memory
Seo Wonmi's <Black Curtain> series
Seo Wonmi’s ‘The Black Curtain’ series began when she drew the portrait of Simsan Kim Chang-sook in 2016. The white sheet of the bed fills more than half of the canvas and the dying old man is lying down like a mummy, with his scrawny arms hanging and his head turned away. He is the subject of the portrait, Simsan Kim Chang-sook, but the world acknowledges him as the most fierce activist who fought against Japan for Korean independence under Japanese colonial rule and refers to him as ‘the last Joseon classical scholar’. The man standing next to the bed fills the rest of the canvas, almost as if he is looming out of the dark. This man is General Park Chung-hee, who rose to power after a military coup d'état. Simsan expresses his historical position with his head turned away both literally and figuratively, and Park Chung-hee is standing with an uncanny smile. The military cap that he is holding looks almost like a shield. Such composition connotes multiple meanings about the personality of the portrait’s main figure and about modern Korea evoking a peculiar tension somewhere within the work.
‘The Black Curtain’ series deal with incidences related to the numerous historic deaths in Korean society. This series began after the works that have continued from 2012 relating to the deaths of individuals. Within the oblivion and ignorance, or even the deliberate indifference of historic incidences, the unsolved problems have been buried and transformed deep inside people’s consciousness, left distorted, approaching us like a ghost. Now, it may be the time we draw out the ghosts that have gone into hiding behind the eyelids of history, or those that have been forcefully concealed, right in front of our eyes. That way, we can come face to face with those lost and forgotten, and those that should be retrieved and remembered.
This is a portrait and, at the same time, a landscape that exists behind the fossilized complex and trauma of Korean society. This landscape looks like an image of the past, but it is the shadow of the present following around, with problems still unsolved. I have brought out the traumas of historical incidences onto the surface of the canvas, as if they are spotlight actors on stage. Placing them somewhere in between the overlap of past and present, and of truth and memory, I seek to move these traumas onto the landscape on the back of the period that I encountered.
<Seo Wonmi, Artist’s Note>
The Black Curtain: 625_003, Oil on canvas, 72.7 x 90.9 (cm), 2017
Poster, Oil on linen, 116.8 x 91 (cm), 2019