Her exhibition entitled, “Yun Suknam: Women of Resistance, Becoming Historic,” at the Hakgojae Gallery is a good opportunity to view the artist’s portraiture project on their rightful track. It will show fourteen large-scale chaesaekhwa portraits of the Korean women Independence fighters and the installation work called, “Red Room.” The novelist Kim E Kyung and the artist have worked jointly for several months in selecting the historical women for the exhibition. Kim E Kyung has taken on the task of dramatizing these women’s stories, based on the records and literature extant and the artist, Yun Suknam, painted them by alluding to the writing of the novelist that will be published simultaneously with the exhibition. […] The fourteen Korean women Independence fighters who will be brought to light are Kang Ju-ryong, Kwon Ki-ok, Kim Maria, Kim Myeong-si, Kim Alexandra, Kim Ok-ryeon, Nam Ja-hyeon, Park Ja-hye, Park Jin-hong, Park Cha-jeong, Ahn Kyung-shin, Lee Hwa-rim, Jeong Jeong-hwa, and Chung Chil-sung. They dedicated their lives to the women’s movement and fought for the independence of Korea from Japanese Colonialism. These names could sound unfamiliar to many given that Ryu Gwan-sun is the single most well-known female independence fighter to most people in South Korea. Although many women have sacrificed their lives to the struggle alongside men for the independence of Korea, they were long forgotten and not properly acknowledged.
Yun Suknam chose to unveil the identity of the fourteen women fighters through their faces and background information, which gives us a clue as to how each woman engaged herself during the Independence movement. For the artist, the face tells the existence of the other, and is an essential factor for rapport with the “Other.” In short, it is impossible for the artist to do a portrait without a photograph or other material that shows the face. Moreover, she has always regarded the face, and especially the eye as the key to revealing the person’s inner spirit most candidly. Next to the face, the hand is represented in a meaningful way. To start off her work, Yun Suknam would do a small drawing of the face to get a sense of the person’s character; she then would move to the actual size drawing, of which she would transfer to the hanji and complete with polychrome painting. In the exhibition, the viewer can see the entire process of her work, for the very first drawing of the face will be shown alongside the initial small and the final large portraits.
Yun Suknam intends to complete one hundred portraitures of these Korean women Independence fighters. I surmise we will see them in the next two or three years. Her work will help a wider spectrum of people to find out about the activism of the Korean women Independence fighters. When a greater number of these portraits shown, then the more effective it will be. They will ask what ethnicity and nation signify to the women of Korea and the true independence one must aspire to. The world has changed much but for those of us who live in the present, the question does not belong to the past but is an ongoing one. With the chaesaek painting that the artist has brought to another level, Yun Suknam brings us closer to the heart of the question. Furthermore, in the Korean art world where the ambiguous boundary between Eastern and Western art still remains, Yun Suknam’s polychrome portraiture painting of the women Independence fighters could free us from this barrier, and can therefore be seen as groundbreaking.
Excerpt from “The Women Who Shook the World: Portraiture of the Korean Independence fighters in polychrome painting by Yun Suknam” | Kim Hyeonjoo · Professor at Chugye University