Looking for Vestiges of the Gisaeng

      January 13, 2005 17:48

      A postcard used by a French missionary in 1910

      A large exhibition is opening dedicated to gisaeng - female entertainers of the Chosun (Joseon) Dynasty who were known as "those possessing the body of the lower class but the mind of the aristocrat."

      From Jan. 13 to Feb. 13 at the Seoul Auction Center in Pyeongchang-dong, some 500 photographs and postcards with fascinating images of gisaeng from the late Chosun Dynasty and the Japanese colonial period will be put on display.

      The shirts, skirts and even underwear of the gisaeng, who were the fashion icons of their day, have been recreated after much research, and part of the exhibition hall has been decorated with the folding screens, musical instruments and cosmetic paraphernalia used by the entertainers.

      History records the names of famous gisaeng such as Hwang Jin-yi and Lee Mae-chang and calls them stylish and refined artists. "The gisaeng, who mixed with upper-class men, were accomplished women who could express themselves and accumulate knowledge," Seoul Auction's Kim Hyo-seon explained.

      The highlights of the show are gisaeng postcards and photos from the collection of Lee Don-su. "During the colonial period, the artistic activities of the gisaeng gradually became constricted, but they also played the role of 'new women' spear-heading a new civilization," Lee said.

      In colonial times, the Japanese Government-General energetically produced postcards to promote its colonization of the peninsula, and frequently inserted photos of gisaeng in tourist information or photo collections of Korean customs.

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